Looking at a Masterpiece
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What power does great art have? In Looking at a Masterpiece, the reader will discover the surprising answer—that great art can “influence our whole lives.”
As author Madeleine Stebbins explains, “Great art deepens the soul, inspiring a thirst for greatness and purifying it of what is base. It opens our minds to a clearer perception of truth and our imaginations to a more radiant vision of moral goodness and nobility.”
In Looking at a Masterpiece, Stebbins explores the themes of more than forty of the world’s finest artistic treasures—from masters such as Piero della Francesca, Hans Holbein, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and more. The book includes full color, high-quality reproductions of these great works of art.
Stebbins directs the reader to consider not only the timeless masterpieces presented, but the universal truths they illuminate, infusing her commentary with the wisdom of saints, popes, theologians, historians, and poets. Explore the transcendent longings of the human heart and discover the transformative power of great art in Looking at a Masterpiece.
About the authors:
Madeleine Stebbins graduated from Fordham University, earning both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree under philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. Having additionally studied at Collège Jésus-Marie in Quebec, she later taught French in New York. Madeleine also studied for more than a year at French- and German- speaking schools in Switzerland. As an assistant to Dr. von Hildebrand, she traveled for eight summers with him as he conducted student tours to the great centers of art throughout Europe. Madeleine later spent many summers with her late husband, H. Lyman Stebbins, in Salzburg, Austria, as well as in Italy. She is a mother and grandmother who now resides in Bronxville, New York.
“Madeleine Stebbins’ book should be warmly welcomed, for it responds to a need that many are not aware of: the crucial role that beauty plays in Catholic life. One could call it the ‘apostolate of beauty.’ Madeleine is remarkably well-equipped to meet this need. Since her youth, she was moved by its message, not only in music, but also in visual arts. She received the gift of understanding the role that receptivity should play in our lives. We need to be fecundated before talking and writing. Having done so through her life, the moment has come for Madeleine to share with the public that faith is deepened and fecundated by beauty. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Madeleine Stebbins reminds us that He is also Beauty.”
Dr. Alice von Hildebrand
Philosopher and author of several books, including The Privilege of Being a Woman
“It is not possible to estimate the great good which Lay Witness magazine has done for countless souls over the years. These reflections culled from it are special treasures. It has been said that rather than judging paintings, they judge us. The exceptional selections of art in these pages, and the insights of the author, reflect very well on her mind and heart, and will enrich the lives of many.”
Fr. George William Rutler
Pastor of St. Michael’s Church in New York City and author of several books, including He Spoke to Us
“Contemporary cultural expressions of beauty have stunted our appetites for genuine beauty. We need it to flourish, so we must reclaim this lost ground. Looking at a Masterpiece is a stunning work that ploughs the depths of aesthetic beauty. We would benefit to use it in our evangelization efforts.”
President and Founder of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)
“This is a gorgeous book on several counts. We are invited to enjoy the beauty of nearly forty masterpiece paintings while reflecting on them with passages from Scripture and the saints and with ideas from theology, philosophy, and history. The truths of faith and of human life portrayed by these works are explored by the author in a simple yet luminous, elegant, and profound way. This book is an invitation to prayer, and can be used for meditation as well as an introduction to great works of art. It shows how, in the words of Pius XII, ‘the great masters of Christian arts became interpreters, not only of the beauty but also of the goodness of God, the Revealer and Redeemer. Marvelous exchange of services between Christianity and art!’”
Dr. Lawrence Feingold
Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, and author of Faith Comes From What is Heard
“Forget the artwork for a moment, of which there is a rich and copious supply, and focus on the best feature of this book, which is the deft and marvelous commentary adorning it. For the author of these lovely pages is no tourist with whom we might traipse our way through the art galleries of the world, but a profound and sensitive student of all the forms of beauty— who is not content merely to present one stunning example after another, but to reflect on the meaning of it all, most especially from the luminous standpoint of the Incarnate God, whose beauty conspires to enrapture and redeem the world. Thus may the reader come to experience something of that ‘wound of the arrow,’ of which Pope Benedict speaks, ‘that strikes the heart and in this way opens up our eyes.’”
Dr. Regis Martin
Professor of Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville, and author of several books, including Witness to Wonder: The World of Catholic Sacrament
“Madeleine Stebbins is able to pinpoint exactly what made a painting great—no pretentious vocabulary necessary: It was the universal truth expressed by the artist.”
Former Director of the Salamagundi Art Club and former General Manager of Visitor Services, Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Madeleine Stebbins is a person of extraordinary aesthetic sensibility. She sees more meaning and beauty in these paintings than most of us see, and she has the rare gift of articulating what she sees. By seeing with her eyes we are sensitized to artistic treasures that would have otherwise escaped us. Under the guidance of her contemplative spirit we are led to dwell with the paintings, to the point that they begin to speak to us.”
Dr. John Crosby
Professor of Philosophy, Franciscan University of Steubenville, and Senior Fellow at the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project