Friday, December 19, 2014

Altars Do Furnish a Room

"Thanks! Yes, that will do fine." Mr. Brack hesitated for a moment and then continued. "I take it, Mister, that you are a Catholic. Perhaps you can explain something to me. You see, I'm a Jew and don't understand. I've always had a good line in religious art: I like it myself. Well, up to about three years ago Catholic fathers were among my best customers. Prices ran high. You could not buy a decent ivory crucifix for love nor money. Well, I've got drawers full of 'em. I give between £20 and £30 for them to take 'em off the market. You see that magnificent Louis XV sideboard over there? Well, it isn't a sideboard; it's an altar. I sold it to a reverend about ten years ago for £500 when that was a lot of money. Six months ago the same reverend came back and begged me to give him £200 for it. I did. I've mucked it up a bit to make it a sideboard and shall set it for £3,000. What puzzles me is that in most cases it's the same father. Take your reverend at Walhamford. Why do you think he contacted me to get rid of the stuff in his church? Because a few years ago he bought that off me."

"That" was an embroidery of Our Lady after a Sassoferrato in the Louvre. It was not Edmund's taste but the workmanship was astonishing. Mr. Brack continued:

"When he sold the church stuff, he threw that in with it and asked me to give him a good price for it. 'Look here, Reverend,' I said, 'I can't. Nobody wants Madonnas now, not even you reverends. As a special favour I'll give you a tenner for it, but I'll probably have to chuck it in with the lot.' That's your father at Walthamford. They used to buy expensively and now they chuck it out. Later they'll be blaming the bloody Jews for making money out of them."

"My dear Mr. Brack, it is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. All I can say is that the Catholic clergy is suffering from collective lunacy. Incidentally, I shall buy the embroidery of the Madonna as well."

No you won't. I'll give it to you as permanent evidence of the collective lunacy."

— Bryan Houghton, Judith's Marriage, 1987, pp. 176–177.