Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Della Francesca's Magpie

DOWNTON ABBEY WATCHERS will remember Mr. Simon Bricker who in Season Five arrives as a guest of the Crawley Family. Taking a shine to Cora, Mr. Bricker invites her to view della Francesca's painting of the Nativity in the National Gallery. Here is their conversation standing before the painting of the musical angels and the Holy Family.

Bricker: Every figure shows a different kind of reverence - some eager, some contemplative, some amazed.

Cora: Even the magpie seems to have been struck dumb.

Bricker: You're very sharp. Umbria was full of magpies, so della Francesca chose a bird known for its chatter and made it silent in wonder.

Cora: How beautiful it is.

Indeed, the magpie, which belongs to the crow family, while it is considered one of the most intelligent of all animals is a vocal bird that keeps up a long stream of raucous and querulous calls. That's a kind way of saying the magpie is a noisy bird whose vocalizations sound like argument. But della Francesca silences the bird as it contemplates the wonder of God become a little child. 

Now the fun part. I'd suggest that the magpie today is technology, constantly calling us to enter its noise and argument. Google any article about the Catholic Church or  Pope Francis or Barack Obama, etc. and the comments following the article immediately devolve into noisy, negative, contentious argument. Like raucous and querulous magpies.

Maybe for the remaining days of Lent we could keep della Francesca's wonder-struck magpie in view - inviting us to be more interior, more reflective, more considered, more still. Again, my friend Father John; "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided." 

And Albert Einstein: "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction, the world will have a generation of idiots." Oh my!


  1. Does this lack of intimacy and connection make us colder, more detached to one another? Even with as many people as there are on this planet, it seems as if we are more alone and isolated than ever before.

    1. Some months ago I quoted a French nun who had lived through Hitler's occupation of France as having said, "It was easier to live then than today; then we had each other, you can't count on that anymore." Perhaps none of us can critique the nun as fewer and fewer of us know her lived experience. I see the picture above of the circle of "friends" all somewhere else but at the table - their being absorbed in their technology. An indicator that we perhaps "can't count on each other today" One could imagine someone at that table having a serious need to talk to a real person and all the others being distracted and un-available. Reminds me of the dad who came into the diner with his 5 year old boy. The dad set up his laptop creating a barrier between himself and the boy, who sat on the other side of the table silently shredding the napkins up into little paper moountains.

  2. In the case of these people who are ignoring each other at a table instead of engaging the people in front of them, silence is far from reflective. These days words are exchanged without the use of vocal chords, and many of them are misinterpreted. The magpie symbolizes stillness of mouth and fingers in these modern times.

    1. At least THIS magpie is silent, but it is in contemplation of the wonder set before it and the world. I would say that we need to re-discover this wonder-sense lost in so much techno searching, chattering and entertainment. Mind you, I know the blessings of technology: this blog exists because of it, and the pill I take everyday, and the tools to create my glasses and the still other tools to repair an ailing tooth....

  3. My sister,61,is in a relationship. They text each other!! HOW can you have a relationship when you never SPEAK to each other? By texting, you miss all the nuances. They aren't growing as a couple. Very,very sad.And this is the way most people ''communicate' these days.. Doesn't bode well for anyone's future anywhere.