A Firecrest in a Wintry Landscape
Nicholas Mynheer writes:
This image, in many ways for me, symbolises my religious experience.
I grew up playing on Otmoor. Often flooded during the winter and baked bone dry in the summer Otmoor remains a wonderful unspoilt wilderness in Oxfordshire. The vast skies and moody landscape dominate my vision as an artist.
I suppose, for many of us, it is when we encounter the beauty of Nature; the setting sun or the star spangled night sky that we are momentarily aware of the magnitude of creation; our own mortality within it and a sense of the Divine.
Occasionally we have a Brief encounter with Divinity – a fleeting glimpse that stays with us the rest of our lives – a bird caught circling, momentarily, in a shaft of light …or a combine harvester brightly lit by the setting sun under a dark summer storm sky. When you have grown up living in the countryside you are acutely aware of the very real sense of tension you share with the farmer as they race to get the harvest in.
That strange unearthly light and that tension always remind me of Roger Wagner’s extraordinary painting of the Angels Reaping, illustrating St. Matthew – ‘The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels’. It was that very same sense of urgency that I tried to capture in the Harrowing of Hell I painted for Northleigh Church.
There is that sense of theatricality in this painting of The Firecrest. I find the intensity almost overwhelming. It is as if for one moment we glimpse, enter into, perfection and then it is gone.
This Fleetingness fascinates me. Some might argue that the Fleeting glimpse is the result of The Fall of Man; that without the Fall there would be no decay, no degradation – I often wonder why, then, God made the wilting flower so beautiful, even though so different from the one in bloom.
Perhaps God allows us only the fleeting glimpse of that which would be too much for us to more fully bear.
This Firecrest in a Wintry Landscape tries to capture a fleeting moment – or rather to bring back to mind one I experienced (though it is in reality just a glimpse of the original glimpse).
The tiny bird perches for one moment; for a fraction of a second on a twig. The colour of fire is in his plumage, echoed in the wintry Otmoor sky – while snow silently falls.
The intensity of the moment; of the vibrant colours… is overwhelming; almost too painful to bear.
I am reminded of Cardinal Newman’s Gerontius when he asks his guardian angel if he shall see his ‘dearest master’. The Angel replies, ‘For one moment thou shalt see thy Lord…..that sight of the Most Fair will gladden thee, but it will pierce thee too.’
Perhaps Hildegarde of Bingen was right when she wrote, ‘Art is a half-effaced recollection of a higher state from which we are fallen’.
Thomas Hardy, in his ‘Darkling Thrush’, shares a glimpse of Divinity through his encounter with a singing bird,
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware. Thomas Hardy