Sister Wendy Beckett, who died this past Boxing Day aged eighty-eight, was as extraordinary as she was unexpected. A nun who spent much of her life in silent contemplation, she found celebrity in the 1990s as a quick-witted and unflinching art writer and presenter of art history documentaries. She commented on everything from Egyptian tomb paintings to Japanese prints, but it was her dialogue on romantic paintings that most captured the public’s imagination. “Her specialist subject,” wrote one critic, “is sex, not religion.” Debunking narrow preconceptions of the religious life in order to engage a broad audience, she memorably stood in front of Stanley Spencer’s Self-portrait with Patricia Preece (1937) for a bbc program and enthused about the “wonderful wallpaper” before pausing to appreciate the “lovely...


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