Friday, July 31, 2009

Rest on the Flight to Egypt

Title: Rest on the Flight to Egypt
Artist: Nicholas Mynheer
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 20 x 50 cm
Date: 2003
Location: The Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art, UK.

Mynheer's painting in the Methodist collection depicts the traditional scene of the Holy family taking rest in the desert on their way to Egypt fleeing from the wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13-15). After the birth of Jesus, the Magi from the east had inadvertently alerted Herod to the presence of the Christ in their midst. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and alerted him to Herod’s murderous scheme: "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Immediately Joseph gathered Mary and Jesus and left for Egypt.

With the threat receding, Mary and Joseph are able to play with the baby Jesus. The Judean Desert blooms with wild flowers for about two weeks every spring so the artist has depicted the desert it flowering in response to the presence of The Lord, echoing the words of The Benedicite "O All ye works of the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever." Even the tree under which they are seen resting has come into fruit; for Nature itself responds to God, praising in its own way.

Nicholas Mynheer (b.1958) is a native of Oxfordshire, England. He is a contemporary artist whose principal themes are biblical, not only does Mynheer work in oil but also in glass and stone. For twenty years Nicholas has been painting and sculpting chiefly around Biblical themes for churches and religious institutions. His artworks are in many churches of all traditions throughout Britain and beyond. Mynheer's work is highly stylized, rather like medieval images in stained glass, sometimes his figures have an almost comic book cartoon like quality with a strong expressionistic force. His webiste is

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Appearance of Christ to the People

Title: The Appearance of Christ to the People

Artist: Aleksandr Ivanov

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 540 x 750 cm

Date: 1857

Location: The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

John came baptizing in the desert region, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and even people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. As recorded in Mark 1:7-8, his message was “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

In the foreground of the picture there is a number of male figures, some already undressed, waiting to be baptized in the Jordan River. John the Baptist, in his garb of animal skin under a long mantle, a crosier in his left hand, has turned and raised his arms dramatically towards the lone figure of Christ. He appears on a rocky rise in the middle ground, behind him a broad plain and distant mountains.

Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (July 28, 1806 – July 15, 1858) was a Russian painter who adhered to the waning tradition of Neoclassicism but found little sympathy with his contemporaries. He spent most of his life in Rome where he was influenced by the Nazarenes, a group of early 19th century Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style.

It took 20 years to complete The Appearance of Christ before the People (1837-57). Critical judgement about Ivanov improved in the following generation. Some of the numerous sketches he had prepared for The Appearance, most of them in oil, have been recognized as masterpieces in their own right.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple

Title: Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple
Artist: Giotto di Bondone

Medium: Fresco

Size: 200 x 185 cm

Date: 1304-06

Location: Scrovegni Chapel, Padua.

As recorded in all of the Gospels, during Jesus’ ministry he traveled to Jerusalem. Once there he went to the Temple where he chased out those people who were treating it like a market, overturning the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them,” 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'" (Matthew 21:13) The buying and selling involved items such as wine, oil, salt, birds and animals that pilgrims to the Temple bought for sacrifices. Because the Temple was a holy place, Roman and Greek money could not be used for these sales. The money-changers were there to exchange the pilgrims' money for Jewish coins.

This painting is one in the fresco cycle by Giotto that depicts the life of the Virgin and the life of Christ, and is regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of the Early Renaissance. Unfortunately, the left-hand portion of it has been considerably damaged by damp and is scarcely intelligible. The attitude of Christ is energetic, and there is a fine contrast in feeling between the two money-changers on the right hand of the picture, one of whom shrinks away, while the other seems inclined to stand his ground. The precipitation with which the goat is leaping out of the little pen is one of those little semirburlesque touches of animal life which Giotto introduces whenever he gets a chance.

Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267 – January 8, 1337), better known simply as Giotto, was an Italian painter and architect from Florence. He is generally considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to the Italian Renaissance. His significance to the can be gauged from the fact that key figures of the High Renaissance, such as Raphael and Michelangelo were still learning from him and partly founding their style on his example. Giotto's masterwork is the painted decoration of the interior of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. This chapel, the building and decoration were commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni to atone for the sins of his father.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Title: Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Artist: Unknown

Medium: Illuminated manuscript

Size: 33.6 x 22.6 cm

Date: 586

Location: Laurentian Library, Florence.

From Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a violent wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The iconography of Pentecost is usually very consistent, with either St. Paul or St. James the Just being substituted for Judas Iscariot. One variable is the inclusion of Mary among the disciples, which is wholly reasonable as the previous chapter of Acts says that she was among the disciples who gathered in the upper room following the ascension of Jesus. Therefore, most depictions include her, and, like this one, most center on her. She is depicted with a long oval face and a bright halo; the style of the apostles belongs to a more ancient art tradition, reminiscent of Roman mosaics.

This illustration is one of several from the Rabbula Gospels, a 6th century illuminated Syriac Gospel Book. One of the finest Byzantine works produced in Asia, it is distinguished by the miniaturist's predilection for bright colors, movement, drama, and expressionism. The miniaturist obviously drew some of his inspiration from Hellenistic art (draped figures), but relied mainly on the ornamental traditions of Persia. The Gospel was completed in the monastery of ‘Beth Mar John’ at ‘Beth Zagba’, in what is now northern Syria. It was signed by its scribe, Rabbula, about whom nothing else is known. Rabbula may have belonged to a group of scribes from Edessa who worked the area in the 6th century. In a long scribal note (fol. 292r–v), he named the others responsible for preparing the manuscript, but unfortunately omitted specific mention of its illuminators.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Risen Christ

Title: The Risen Christ
Artist: Bramantino
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 109 x 75 cm
Date: c. 1490
Location: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

None of the gospels record what transpired at the moment Jesus was resurrected, only the aftermath early on Sunday when the stone had already been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and the body was nowhere to be found (e.g. Luke 24).

Bramantino's Risen Christ has all the power required to depict this subject without having to resort to the depiction of violence or blood. Here Christ appears full face, very clearly showing the spectator the wounds of his passion which are realistically depicted on his hands, and the wound in his side which he covers with his robe. The representation of the wounds allows us to identify the image as that of the Risen Christ and to suggest that the dark background on the right could be the tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane. This Risen Christ is very far removed from representations of the subject which show Christ triumphant over Death. The Saviour is here shown with reddened eyes and an expression of intense pain and sadness. The body, almost a ghostly pallor, contrasts with the strong reddish tones used on the face and hair, and seems to give out a light which has no obvious source, but comes from within.

Bartolomeo Suardi, called Bramantino (c. 1456 – c. 1530), was a Milanese painter and architect, and a follower of Bramante, from whom he takes his nickname. His style as a painter is complex and eclectic, drawing on Piero della Francesca and Leonardo as well as Bramante. In 1525 Bramantino was appointed architect to the court by Duke Francis (II) Sforza, and his aid as an engineer in the defence of Milan brought him a multitude of rewards.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Title: Salome
Artist: Franz Von Stuck
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 115.5 x 62.5 cm
Date: 1906
Location: Stadische Galerie, Munich.

Salome was a Judaean princess (1st Century AD), grand-daughter of Herod the Great and daughter of Herodias by her first husband, Herod Philip, the brother of her second husband, Herod Antipas. She is identified (by the historian Josephus) as the unnamed girl recorded in Mark 6:21-29 who danced before Herod Antipas at the occasion of his birthday. According to Mark's gospel Herodias bore a grudge against John for stating that Herod's marriage to Herodias was unlawful, so she counseled Salome to demand the head of John the Baptist as recompense for her splendid dancing.

This painting highlights the two main aspects of the Salome legend: the girl’s unabashed seductiveness, and the brutality of the decapitation of John the Baptist. Salome dominates the foreground, her skin radiant against the darkened background. Our eye is drawn to her body, plays across her torso, and almost stumbles across the vaguely glowing head of the decapitated Baptist. This stark juxtaposition, sensually set against brutality, jars the viewer, no longer simply eyeing a lascivious young beauty, but rather witnessing the tableau of a tragic murder.

Franz Von Stuck (February 24, 1863 - August 30, 1928) was a German painter, sculptor, engraver and architect. He at first earned his living by illustrating various magazines, and in 1892 was one of the founders of the Munich Sezession. In 1895 he began teaching at the Munich Academy, where his pupils included Kandinsky, Klee and Albers, whose subsequent careers enhanced von Stuck's fame. His many nudes, with their torrid sensuality and a linear style combining decorative and erotic elements, are direct precursors of Jugendstil, the German Art Nouveau movement.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mary and Her Son, and Apostles and Saints George and Theodore

Title: Mary and Her Son, and Apostles and Saints George and Theodore

Artist: (Unknown)

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 25 x 40 cm

Date: c. 1480

Location: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The dominant image of this diptych is that of the Christ Child as he touches his mother's chin, a gesture of affection that was probably inspired by 15th-century Italian paintings then greatly admired at the Ethiopian royal court. Further imagery on the diptych that had great appeal for the upper classes in Ethiopia was the victorious saints on horseback, such as Saints George and Theodore on the right-hand panel. Ethiopian noblemen were well trained in horsemanship and combat, and had as much admiration for these battling saints as the European counterparts.

The origins of Christianity in Ethiopia date back to at least 316 AD, after two survivors of a voyage of exploration along the coast of Africa were taken to the court and given positions of trust by the monarch. They both practiced the Christian faith in private, and soon converted the queen and several other members of the royal court. However, the Ethiopian Church claims its origins from the royal official said to have been baptized by Philip the Evangelist, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles chapter 8:26-40. The Angel of the Lord had sent Philip south from Jerusalem where he encountered an Ethiopian, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of the Ethiopians. Philip helped the Ethiopian interpret a passage he had been reading in Isaiah, and used this passage as a starting point to explain the Good News about Jesus Christ.

The artist is most likely a follower of Fre Seyon, the celebrated 15th-century monk and artist. Seyon is credited with the development of the devotional Marian Icon images and style. He left only one signed work during his career, which may be dated to the period of about 1445-80. Mary became an extremely important figure in the Ethiopian church when Emperor Zar'a Ya'eqob (r. 1434–68) mandated the reading of the Miracles of the Virgin Mary, and that she be honored at most of the thirty feast days in the liturgical year.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Doubting Thomas

Title: Doubting Thomas
Artist: Guercino
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 80 x 108 cm
Date: c. 1621
Location: Residenzgalerie Salzburg.

As portrayed in John 20:24-28, Jesus had appeared to many of his disciples after his resurrection, but Thomas was not among them. He professed: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." Sure enough, eight days later, Jesus again appeared to his disciples and invited Thomas to "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe."

This painting allows us the opportunity to envision the Savior's conversation with Thomas. It makes it possible for us to focus our minds on the event and more fully internalize the Savior's admonition: "Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29) One of the aims of the masters of Baroque painting was to create a greater sense on intimacy, especially when dealing with a scared event. And indeed Guercino has done so, virtually under spotlight, and ensures there is no doubt as to the physical presence of Jesus Christ, wounds and all. The intimacy is there for the viewer as well as for Thomas.

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (February 8, 1591 — December 9, 1666), also known as Guercino, was an Italian Baroque painter from the region of Emilia. Il Guercino (Italian for "the squinter") was a nickname that was given to him because he was cross-eyed. He was self-taught but developed precociously, and managed to become one of the major artists of his day. He is especially noted for his many superb drawings.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre

Title: The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre

Artist: William Blake

Medium: Watercolor, pen and ink

Size: 42.2 x 31.4 cm

Date: c. 1805

Location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Thomas Butts, a civil servant, was one of artist William Blake's most loyal patrons. He commissioned Blake to make over 80 watercolors of subjects from the Bible. This example depicts the body of Jesus Christ, which was placed in a tomb, or sepulchre, following his death by crucifixion. When Mary Magdalene visited the following day, she was startled to find two angels sitting at the head and feet where the body of Jesus had lain. This watercolor is an unusual and striking visual interpretation of the biblical text, strange light and colors used here enhance the sense of the mystery of the scene.

For his imagery Blake sought out a description in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, which recounts the history of the Jews many centuries before the time of Christ. When the prophet Moses is alone on Mount Sinai, Jehovah tells him to instruct the Israelites to make a 'mercy seat' flanked by angels all made of gold (Ex 25:17-20). The description of the angels in Exodus is the source for Blake's design. In this way Blake ties Mary Magdalene's account of the two angels in the sepulchre to the passage from exodus, making that moment a prefiguration of a founding moment of the Christian religion.

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England, Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions, as well as by such thinkers as Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Sistine Madonna

Title: The Sistine Madonna
Artist: Raphael
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 265 × 196 cm
Date: c. 1514
Location: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

The canvas with the Virgin, Child and Saints Sixtus and Barbara, usually called the Sistine Madonna, is characterized by an imaginary space created by the figures themselves. The figures stand on a bed of clouds, framed by heavy curtains which open to either side. The Madonna appears as if from behind the curtains, confident and yet hesitant, and actually appears to descend from a heavenly space, through the picture plane, out into the real space in which the painting is hung. This is seen by the active focal point being at the Madonna's knee.

The gesture of St. Sixtus and the glance of St. Barbara seem to be directed toward the faithful, whom we imagine beyond the balustrade at the bottom of the painting. The Papal tiara, which rests on top of this balustrade, act as a bridge between the real and pictorial space. The painting was probably intended to decorate the tomb of Pope Julius II since the holy pope Sixtus was the patron saint of the Della Rovere family, and St Barbara and the two winged 'genii' (visible at the bottom of the picture space) symbolize the funeral ceremony. The canvas was located in the convent of St. Sixtus in Piacenza and was later donated by the monks to Augustus III, King of Saxony.

Raphael Sanzio (Italian: Raffaello; 1483 – April 6, 1520) usually known by his first name alone, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, celebrated for the perfection and grace of his paintings and drawings. Raphael was enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop, and despite his death at thirty-seven, a large body of his work remains. Many of his works are found in the Apostolic Palace of The Vatican, where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the central, and the largest, work of his career.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

St. John the Baptist

Title: St. John the Baptist

Artist: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 111 x 66 cm

Date: c. 1600

Location: The Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, CA

St. John the Baptist, son of St. Elisabeth and the priest Zacharias, figures prominently in the Gospels. John followed the example of previous Hebrew prophets, living austerely, challenging sinful rulers, calling for repentance, and promising God's justice. He announced the coming of the Messiah, and led a movement of Baptism at the Jordan River in expectation of a divine apocalypse. The messianic figure John anticipated is realized when he baptizes Jesus, initiating the beginning of His earthly ministry. King Herod later has John imprisoned for denouncing his marriage, and eventually he is executed (Matthew 14:1-12.)

This is the finest of the various representations in which St John the Baptist appears in El Greco’s oeuvre. The attenuated figure, the agitated movement of the sky and the scintillating light on the landscape is characteristic of El Greco's work around 1600. This painting is further distinguished from related pictures by the placement of the lamb on the rock - a reference to Christ's sacrifice. The building in the landscape background has been identified as the Escorial, A monastery and palace of central Spain near Madrid.

El Greco (1541 – April 7, 1614) was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Today considered one of the greatest artists of the Spanish school El Greco (the Greek) was actually born in Crete, a Greek island under Venetian control. The artist always acknowledged this origin, signing his works with his given name, Domenikos Theotokopoulus, in Greek characters. El Greco's early works demonstrate that he worked within the conservative tradition of Byzantine icon painting before exposure to Venetian High Renaissance art broadened his stylistic approach. El Greco's dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found greater appreciation in the 20th century.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I am a Grape Vine

Title: I am a Grape Vine
Artist: Sadao Watanabe
Medium: Stencil print
Size: 22.5 x 33.5 cm
Date: 1973
Location: Private collection

In John 15:5 Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears abundant fruit. However, apart from Me you can do nothing.” The most basic point of the imagery is the obvious dependence of branches on the vine for continued life. But Jesus also uses this imagery to link himself, and the new covenant he provides, to the people of the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 80:8 states Israel was like a grapevine brought out of Egypt by God.

Japan was a Buddhist country when in the mid-sixteenth century Portuguese missionaries landed on Kyushu Island. Initially the Jesuits were quite successful in spreading the Christian gospel in Japan, especially among the lower classes. This early success was propelled in part due to political circumstances favorable to them in a country torn by raging civil wars, but eventually these same politics turned against them. Christianity was banned, and its followers persecuted with harsh and cruel methods until the nearly complete extinction of the Christian religion in Japan. As foretold in Psalm 80:16 “Enemies chopped the vine down and set it on fire.”

Sadao Watanabe (1913 – 1996), was born and grew up in Tokyo. He was a Japanese printmaker famous for his biblical prints rendered in the mingei (folk art) tradition of Japan. The artist specialized in depictions of scenes from the bible, shown in a naive-looking, sometimes humerous, Japanese-like style. As a youth Watanabe was influenced by a teacher to become a Christian and was baptized in 1930. When he became severely ill with tuberculosis, a disease that could easily kill in those days, Watanabe vowed to study the Bible and spread the Christian story through artwork if he should recover.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Avignon Pietà

Title: The Avignon Pietà

Artist: Enguerrand Charonton

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 162 x 218 cm

Date: c. 1460

Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Pietà (Italian for pity), where the dead Christ is supported by his grieving mother, is one of the most common themes of late-medieval religious art. This example is one of the most striking depictions, and has been acclaimed as perhaps the greatest masterpiece produced in France in the 15th century.

The curved back form of Christ's body is highly original, and the stark, motionless dignity of the other figures might have been taken from Gothic sculpture. The suffering figure of the Virgin dominates the painting while Christ, a white cloth wrapped across his loins, appears to be floating on her lap. A young St John bends in loving tenderness above him while the clerical donor, portrayed with Netherlandish realism, kneels to the left. On the right the mourning, pitiful figure of St Mary Magdalene completes the diagonal line arching over the Virgin and St John to the donor. The bare background landscape falls away to a horizon broken by the buildings of Jerusalem, with a sky of gold leaf with stamped and incised haloes, borders and inscriptions.

Its concentrated emotion, dramatic force and religious content make this the supreme manifestation in mediaeval painting of the tragedy of Christ. The Virgin's sorrow is profound and austere, almost unbending; Magdalene's is softer, more womanly. With this work the master enriched French and European painting with one of the finest representations of the Pietà in existence.

Enguerrand Charonton or Quarton (c. 1410, Laon – c. 1466, Avignon) was a French painter and manuscript illuminator whose few surviving works are among the first masterpieces of a distinctively French style, very different from either Italian or Early Netherlandish painting.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

St. Matthew

Title: St. Matthew
Artist: Unknown
Medium: Ink and tempera on vellum
Size: 26 x 14.9 cm
Date: c. 816-41
Location: Bibliothéque Municipale, Épernay.

St. Matthew, the son of Alpheus (Mark 2:13-17) was a Galilean, although Eusebius informs us that he was from Syria. A tax-gatherer at Capernaum, he collected custom duties for Herod Antipas, and, although a Jew, was despised by his own kind who hated all publicans. When summoned by Jesus, Matthew arose and followed, and tendered him a feast in his house where Christ and His disciples sat with tax-gatherers and sinners. This drew forth a protest from the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners".

The Ebbo Gospels is an early Carolingian illuminated Gospel book known for an unusual, energetic style of illustration. The book was produced in the ninth century at the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers, near Reims, France. The illustration style has its roots in late classical painting as demonstrated by the illusionistic style of the background landscapes. Greek artists fleeing the Byzantine iconoclasm of the 8th century brought this style to Aachen and Reims. The vibrant emotionalism, however, was new to Carolingian art and also distinguishes the Ebbo Gospels from classical art. Figures in the Ebbo Gospels are represented in nervous, agitated poses, the illustration using an energetic, streaky style with swift brush strokes. The style directly influenced manuscript illumination for decades.

St. Matthew the evangelist is traditionally depicted sitting at his desk, writing his gospel with an angel either guiding his hand or holding the inkwell. The Ebbo Gospels, however, render St. Matthew as the primary focus, furiously writing and holding his own inkwell, his angelic assistant in the distant background to the upper right of the image.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Agony in the Garden

Title: The Agony in the Garden

Artist: Francisco Goya

Medium: Oil on panel

Size: 47 x 35 cm

Date: 1819

Location: Escuelas Pías de San Antón, Madrid.

As recorded in Luke 22:39-43: Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

This dramatic painting is a pendant to the large altarpiece ‘The Last Communion of St Joseph of Calasanz’, a commission the artist received May 1819. When the altarpiece was finished Goya wrote to the Rector returning most of the payment he had received saying: 'D. Francisco Goya has to do something in homage to his countryman.” And a few days later presented the Pious School with a gift of ‘The Agony in the Garden’ depicting Christ alone and wracked with doubt shortly before his arrest. Both this small panel and the altarpiece are outstanding in Goya's oeuvre for the intensity of the religious devotion they reflect. Goya may well have felt a personal involvement with the saint who was the founder of the religious schools that are said to have given him his education in Saragossa.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (30 March 1746 – 16 April 1828) was a Spanish painter and printmaker regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and as the first of the moderns. Goya was a court painter to the Spanish Crown and a chronicler of history. The subversive and subjective element in his art, as well as his bold handling of paint, provided a model for the work of later generations of artists.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Christ at the Sea of Galilee

Title: Christ at the Sea of Galilee
Artist: Jacopo Tintoretto
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 117 x 169 cm
Date: 1575-80
Location: National Gallery of Art, Washington.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection he appeared to many of his disciples. The third instance of such an appearance is recorded in John 21. While some of his disciples were fishing one morning they spotted a man along the shore. He called to them and provided fishing advice of miraculous proportions. “Therefore the disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer garment around him, and plunged into the sea.” (John 21:7)

The Venetian master Tintoretto marshaled the unstable forces of nature to heighten the drama of this scene from John's Gospel; the wind that fills the sail and bends the mast also agitates the sea and sky, and the rocky waves meet the low clouds that blow onto the land. Christ's outstretched arm draws Simon Peter like a magnet, the charge between them creating a dynamic link between the center of the picture and the left foreground. Tintoretto has broken all forms into multiple planes, splintering the light, and frosting the edges with a brush loaded with dry, lead-white oil paint. This use of a thick, white impasto to accent the highlights as in the grassy shore at Christ's feet is a hallmark of Tintoretto's bravura style.

Tintoretto (real name Jacopo Comin; September 29, 1518 – May 31, 1594) was one of the greatest painters of the Venetian school and probably the last great painter of the Italian Renaissance. For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso. Indeed, fellow Venetian master Sebastiano del Piombo remarked that Tintoretto could paint in two days as much as himself in two years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Christ and the Twelve Apostles

Title: Christ and the Twelve Apostles

Artist: Unknown (Catalan master)

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 102 x 151 cm

Date: c. 1100

Location: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

The earliest surviving examples of Spanish panel paintings are the altar panels produced by painters active in the workshops attached to religious houses. These panels were intended for the decoration of altars and the choice of theme was confined to the symbolic representation of figures from the New Testament. In practically every one of these panels we find centrally placed the figure of Christ or the Virgin, surrounded by a halo, and a hieratic arrangement of the apostles.

This panel, an altar frontal from a church in the bishopric of La Seu d'Urgell, also known as the Apostles Frontal, is a magnificent example of such a retable. The Maiestas Domini, or Lord-in-Majesty, is inscribed within a double mandorla, a frequent characteristic in models of Carolingian inspiration. Christ, judging the world, places his hand on a book with the very gesture that might be used by a student of the law as he closes the codex in which he has sought guidance in reaching a fair judgment. On either side are the apostles, in a very original triangular composition. At the same time there is in the iconography all the naiveté of folk-art: the detail and ornamental elements convey the painter's delight in unrestricted decoration.

The Apostles Frontal illustrates in a very clear way some of the most characteristic aspects of Romanesque art such as the symmetry, the formal geometry or the hierarchical perspective. It is one of the masterpieces of collection of panel painting in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya.