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Lenten Reflections from the Art Gallery of Ontario

Noel Ocol

Monday, April 6, 2020

Doesn’t it seem like this year's Lenten season has whipped right by? With all the negative COVID-19 news dominating the media headlines, I found it far too easy to forget that we are in the middle of one of the most important liturgical times of the year.
With churches closed and access to sacraments (which I used to take for granted) no longer available, I found it particularly difficult this Lent to properly prepare and remain focused for Holy Week.
Luckily, before the government mandated shutdowns in March, we had the opportunity to prepare a series of stunning Lenten vignettes, using art pieces from Toronto’s AGO as a visual centrepiece, accompanied by Lenten-themed reflections from art historian Fr. Eric Nicolai.
The idea to film a mini-series of art-based reflections for Lent came to me after we filmed something similar for the December 2019 episode of behold, showcasing art by Flemish Baroque artist, Peter Paul Rubens, which had an Advent theme. You can watch the episode here.
Unbeknownst to me at the time we were filming this, I would rewatch these reflections often over the past few weeks, to help put the “Lent” back into the uncertain reality of my daily life. Every time I watched them or saw them on our TV network, it brought back fond memories of the day we filmed them.
So I thought it would be fun to give you a quick behind-the-scenes look at the day we filmed those segments.

Check out the video above! Or click here.

In that one grueling day, we filmed five different reflections. Starting at 10 am, we filmed right through to 4:30 pm, amidst a bunch of false starts, retakes, camera problems, and visitors accidentally walking into the shot. But in the end, the results were worth it.
If you haven’t seen the segments airing on our TV network, you can watch all of Salt + Light TV's Lent Reflections on our official Lent page.
However, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling all of the completed reflections below with a small commentary on a few of my favourite segments.

The Raising of the Cross

Of all the segments, this one has to be my favourite one. Why? It’s because of the way that it was edited.
It was filmed in a standard “talk to the camera” manner, but the way it was edited and cut to the dramatic tone of the music turned what could have been a simple “report” into a visually compelling vignette. You’ll notice that in all the other segments (except for Rubens’ other masterpiece, The Entombment),  Fr. Eric is not talking directly to the camera. That's because these two pieces were filmed at a different time from the others: back in November when we were in the gallery filming for December’s episode of behold.  

The Mass of St. Gregory

At first, I was skeptical about filming this painting. It's a small piece tucked into a dark corner, which made it difficult for us to visually express it in an interesting way. But Fr. Eric convinced me to give it a try because of the significance of the story behind the artwork, and also because of the little-known indulgences that are granted to anyone who says some Hail Marys in front of the painting.  Who would have known?

Christ Washing His Disciples’ Feet

This painting was the largest piece that we filmed that day. It's about 8 feet long! Never would I have known that it was supposed to be viewed from the right side, at an angle, which explains why a dog was oddly placed right in the middle  of the painting. It really illustrates, for me at least, what the Holy Thursday events could have looked like.

Christ Crowned with Thorns

I don't know how many times I’ve seen this image on prayer cards, posters, church bulletins, etc. So I didn’t really think much of this piece. To me, it was just another painting of Jesus. It wasn’t until Fr. Eric pointed out the intricate lines and details in the painting, and the painful expression on Christ’s face that I truly started to appreciate its significance.

The Crucifixion

This painting also posed some challenges. It's located in a dark corner behind a gallery entrance, with very little space. So trying to make the flow of this segment “fluid” was difficult. In addition to that, the painting is crammed with over sixteen figures. To compensate for the limited space, we filmed a dramatic “walk through the door and approach the painting” sequence. Unfortunately, we had to cut it to try to keep this vignette under three minutes, but in the end, I was happy with the result.

The Lamentation

During the filming of this piece, a funny thing happened. Right in the middle of the shoot, two old ladies, oblivious to the fact that we were filming, thought Fr. Eric worked there and approached him and asked him to explain the painting. It was a very cute and funny situation. Without missing a beat, Fr. Eric graciously acknowledged them and explained to them the significance of the art. Of course we had to cut the filming and start again, but only after the old ladies were happy and had moved on. Naturally, you won't see the nice old ladies in the final cut.

The Entombment

Finally, this piece, like The Raising of the Cross, is a Peter Paul Rubens masterpiece that we filmed back in November. So you’ll notice the different presentation style Fr. Eric has compared with the segments we filmed in February.
I hope you enjoy these reflections just as much as we enjoyed creating them for you.

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