This woodcut shows St Brendan afloat upon the deep, over an impressive density of magnificent sea life. As you probably know, Brendan was a sixth century Irish explorer who may have been the first European to reach North America and whose travel accounts, fantastical episodes included, certainly influenced later European explorers. This piece illustrates an episode when sea creatures gathered to hear St Brendan’s celebration of the Mass. Brendan’s fellow monks were afraid of the monsters, but Brendan just spoke louder so that they could hear better, whereupon they danced joyously all around the boat.
The artist, Robert Gibbings (Ireland, 1889-1958) was one of the founders of the Society of Wood Engravers, and illustrated and published many books. This piece was an illustration for a book called Beasts and Saints by Helen Waddell. I love the enormous swoop and swirl of the fish, and the tiny little men on the surface of the water, aware of the creatures in the water, but surely unaware of the sheer depth and immensity of life below them.
[Picture: St Brendan and the Sea Monsters, woodcut by Robert Gibbings, 1934 (Image from Christchurch Art Gallery.)]
Tomorrow and Sunday I’ll be at Roslindale Open Studios, among a huge variety of artists. If you’re in the greater Boston area, be sure to come out and explore. (And get some unique, handmade, local holiday gifts while you have this splendid opportunity.)