Sunday, February 28, 2010

Christ before Pilate

Title: Christ before Pilate

Artist: Hans Multscher

Medium: Panel

Size: 148 x 140 cm

Date: 1437

Location: Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Mark 15:1-5 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

"Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate.

"You say so." Jesus replied.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of."

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

The whole of the Sanhedrin, depicted as a grotesque menagerie in this panel, had obviously accused Jesus of declaring himself Messiah, “King of the Jews”. Such a declaration could easily lead to a charge of sedition and treason against the Emperor. Some scholars have pointed out that When Pilate asks Jesus "Are you the king of the Jews?" we should probably hear a mocking emphasis on the word “you”. Would Pilate really believe a bound and beaten Jewish peasant was claiming the be king? Conversely, we should probably hear Jesus’ response with an equally mocking emphasis on the same word : “You say so”.

This panel is one of several making up the Wurzach Altarpiece by Hans Multscher (ca. 1400, Reichenhofen/Allgau, d. 1467, Ulm), considered among the most important 15th-century German paintings. Multscher was a German sculptor active in Ulm, who was trained in the Netherlands or northern France. Paintings were integral to his altarpieces, but it is a matter for debate to what extent he practiced painting himself. The Wurzach altar, the only painting attributed to him by some experts, exhibits a realism nearer to contemporary Flemish rather than German painting.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

St Peter in Penitence

Title: St Peter in Penitence

Artist: El Greco

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 102 x 84 cm

Date: c. 1605

Location: Hospital Tavera, Toledo.

Mark 14:72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

Here, Christians can take solace in the knowledge there is hope of forgiveness and repentance for us all. Peter is the example, who upon realization of what he had done, “broke down and wept”. Had Judas broke down and wept, and repented, he too would have been forgiven. To reinforce this point, it should be noted that Judas never appears in the Gospel of Mark again, whereas Peter does in Mark 16:7.

In this painting Peter raises his tear-filled eyes to Heaven, his hands joined in prayer. This is one of the late versions of a subject El Greco painted in at least six different autograph variants (several of which gave rise to studio copies) over the course of his career in Spain.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco (1541 – April 7, 1614) was a painter, sculptor, and architect, considered one of the greatest of the Spanish School. The Cretan-born artist always acknowledged his origin, signing his works with his given name in Greek characters. Though his dramatic and expressionistic style was not met with the universal approval of his contemporaries, his work found greater appreciation in beginning of the 20th century.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Denial of St Peter

Title: The Denial of St Peter

Artist: Gerrit van Honthorst

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 111 x 149 cm

Date: 1622-24

Location: Institute of Fine Arts, Minneapolis.

Mark 14:66-71 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said.

But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean."

He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about."

The “curses” Peter utters are not vulgar words; rather, he vows that he does not know the man, invoking curses on himself if he is lying.

As compared with Italian painters taking up the same theme, in Honthorst's painting the emphasis is shifted towards the dramatic potential of artificial light. The face of the maidservant who identifies Peter as one of the followers of Christ is sharply illuminated by the candle she holds. Its flame is hidden by the outstretched arm of another accuser, creating a complex pattern of superimposed bright and dark areas and enhancing the atmospheric effect of the glowing light.

Gerrit van Honthorst, also known as Gerard van Honthorst (November 4, 1592 - April 27, 1656), was a Dutch painter and a leading member of the Utrecht school influenced by the Italian painter Caravaggio. He was born in Utrecht as the son of a textile painter. His younger brother Willem also became a painter. Van Honthorst was apprenticed to Abraham Bloemaert, the most celebrated master in Utrecht, and went to Italy around 1610-1615, when Caravaggio's influence there was at its height.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jesus Condemned by the Sanhedrin

Title: Jesus Condemned by the Sanhedrin

Artist: Michael D. O’Brien

Medium: Acrylic on hardboard

Size: 24in x 24in

Date: c. 2005

Location: Private collection

Mark 14:53-65 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' " Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.

Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"

"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?"

They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.

Though the council may not have genuinely believed that Jesus had committed blasphemy by allusions of himself to the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14), they have an important reason to deal with him quickly: he poses a clear threat to the temple establishment, and as a messianic claimant he threatens the whole roman power structure that they, the Jewish aristocracy, represent.

Michael D. O'Brien (b. 1948) is a Roman Catholic author, artist, and frequent essayist and lecturer on faith and culture, living in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. Born in Ottawa, he is self-taught, without an academic background. His paintings, in a neo-Byzantine style with a contemporary interpretation, are also featured on the covers of all of his books. His work can be seen on his website

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arrest of Jesus

Title: Arrest of Jesus

Artist: Unknown

Medium: Tempera on parchment

Size: tbd.

Date: 17th-century

Location: British Library, London.

Mark 14:50-52 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

This miniature shows the capture of Jesus by two soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. His serene expression and crossed wrists eloquently convey his resignation to what must happen, and contrast with the threatening stance of the man with a sword. Jesus is depicted alone, as described in the gospel account "everyone deserted him”.

The young man mentioned in 14:51-52 is an enigma. Scholars lack a consensus as to why Mark would record this odd incident at all. One argument is that the passage reiterates that in the face of adversity even the disciples were so eager to abandon Jesus that one of them was willing to run away naked. Consider, however, that he escapes leaving his linen cloth (sindon in Greek) which is mentioned twice, and later the dead Jesus is wrapped only in a linen cloth (another sindon), which also mentioned twice (15:46), only to “escape” death.

This illustration is from a lavishly illustrated 17th-century manuscript written in a small elegant script with decorative borders and devices. At the time this was produced, Ethiopia was undergoing a religious and artistic revival. The volume is a faithful copy of a 15th-century manuscript, and was probably commissioned by Emperor Iyasu (ruled 1682-1706) for the church of Debra Berhan Selassie, which remains one of Ethiopia's most well-known churches.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Betrayal of Christ

Title: The Betrayal of Christ

Artist: Jacopo Bassano

Medium: Pastel over charcoal on faded blue paper

Size: 41 x 55 cm

Date: 1568

Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

Mark 14:43-49 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled."

This drawing covers the largest format possible at the time for rag-pulp paper. The colored highlights of the pastel crayons are perfectly preserved and contrast the quickly sketched figures of the traitor Judas identifying Jesus to the armed band with a kiss.

As local collaborators, the temple authorities were permitted by the Romans to have a small paramilitary force. That these men, sent by the chief priests and teachers of the law, come prepared for armed resistance demonstrates they had been expecting a messianic revolutionary.

Jacopo Bassano (also known as Jacopo da Ponte, c. 1510 - 13 February 1592) was an Italian painter active in the Republic of Venice. He was born and died in Bassano del Grappa near Venice, from which he adopted the name. His father Francesco Bassano the Elder was a "peasant artist" and Jacopo adopted some of his style as he created religious paintings with novel features including animals, farmhouses, and landscapes. From around 1560 his work became vested with a more exaggerated search for novel effects of light, taking on something of the iridescent coloring reminiscent of Tintoretto.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Agony in the Garden

Title: The Agony in the Garden

Artist: Hans Leonhard Schaufelein

Medium: Lime panel

Size: tbd.

Date: 1516

Location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Mark 14:37-42 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

Jesus’ exhortation that “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” is not meant in the later Gnostic or Neo-Platonic sense (the soul is intrinsically good and the body is evil), but rather that though one means well, the body is susceptible to exhaustion. In fact, there are allusions here to the servants left in charge by their master in the parable told by Jesus in Mark 13:34-37: "...keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' "

Hans Leonhard Schäufelein (c. 1480 – 1540) was a German painter, designer, and wood engraver. As a painter he was much influenced by Dürer, his master, but his woodcuts are generally considered more original and more important than his pictures. He often signed his works HS with a little shovel (Schäuffelein).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Christ Comforted by an Angel

Title: Christ Comforted by an Angel

Artist: Paul Troger

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: tbd.

Date: c. 1730

Location: Museo Diocesano, Camerino, Italy.

Mark 14:32-36 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

The Cup of which Jesus speaks echoes the statement he made to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, when they asked that they sit next to him in his glory (Mark 10:37). Jesus replied "Can you drink the cup I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" Jesus often used the symbolism of the cup when referring to his fate, and may allude to the Cup of Judgment that appears often in the Old Testament.

Paul Troger (October 30, 1698 – July 20, 1762) was an Austrian painter, draughtsman and printmaker of the late Baroque period. Troger settled in Vienna in 1728 and became one of the best representatives of the Viennese Rococo painting. He alloyed successfully the Italian (Venetian and Neapolitan) traditions with the ideas of contemporary Austrian painting. He became director of the Academy of Art in Vienna, and influenced significant artists of the next generation, notably Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Josef Ignaz Mildorfer, Johann Wenzel Bergl.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Conscience, Judas

Title: Conscience, Judas

Artist: Nikolai Ge

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 149 x 210 cm

Date: 1891

Location: tbd.

Mark 14:26-31 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. "You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not."

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times."

But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same.

Ge’s painting, ‘Conscience, Judas’, suggests that Judas’s betrayal of Jesus led him into a state of profound isolation. As Jesus was telling his disciples how he knew they would all fall away, Judas had already done so. And even as Peter denies he would ever disown Jesus, another has already done so. We may not fully know by what reasoning Judas would betray Christ, but the bribe of thirty pieces of silver was enough for Judas to arrange for a private place for the arrest of Jesus.

Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge (27 February 1831 – 13 June 1894), was a Russian realist painter famous for his works on historical and religious motifs. He was born into a noble family of French origin, but his parents died when he was young and he was raised by his nurse, a serf who taught him compassion and empathy for the humiliated. His late paintings on New Testament subjects were praised by liberal critics like Vladimir Stasov, criticized by conservatives as illustrating Ernest Renan (the French philosopher best known for his influential works on early Christianity) rather than the New Testament, and forbidden by the authorities as blasphemous.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Last Supper

Title: The Last Supper

Artist: Juan de Juanes

Medium: Panel

Size: 116 x 191 cm

Date: c. 1560s

Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Mark 14:22-25 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

This painting depicts Jesus in the midst of his benediction, the disciples crowded about, haloes acting as celestial name tags for the viewer. Conspicuously, Judas is depicted in the left foreground skulking away from the ceremony. He has no halo, instead his name is emblazoned on his stool in sharp contrast to the glory of the other disciples.

During the sixteenth century, a number of Spanish painters fell heavily under the influence of Raphael. Typical in this respect, in Valencia, are the members of the Masip family: Vicente Masip and his son Vicente Juan Masip (c. 1500–21 December 1579). In fact, the younger Masip (also Juan de Juanes, Joan de Joanes, and Vicente Juan Macip) was often called "the Spanish Raphael". His work is distinguished by a certain formalistic elaboration of the directions taken by his father, but is by no means lacking in grace or skill. His work is harmonious, rhythmically transparent and well designed. These characteristics are particularly evident in his more popular compositions, including this rendition of the Last Supper.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Last Supper

Title: The Last Supper

Artist: Daniele Crespi

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 335 x 220 cm

Date: 1624-25

Location: Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Mark 14:17-21 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me."

They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"

"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

This depiction of The Last Supper by Daniele Crespi comes from the Benedictine convent at Brugora (in Brianza). It’s composition may have been modeled on the work of Gaudenzio Ferrari in the Santa Maria della Passione in Milan. Crespi depicts the apostles in full denial, each hoping it is another who will be the betrayer. Only John, who rests under Christ’s protective arm, and Judas, in the foreground having turned to face the viewer, seem calm. One is beyond suspicion, and the other already knows the truth of his betrayal.

Daniele Crespi (b. ca. 1590, Busto Arsizio, d. 1630, Milano) was a Milanese painter, known for the direct emotional appeal and simple compositions of his religious paintings. Although he died young of the plague, his output was large and his work is considered to be one of the most typical expressions of the zealous spirit of the Counter-Reformation that affected Milan at this time. He was probably a relative of Giovanni Battista Crespi, whose work influenced him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Man Bearing a Pitcher

Title: The Man Bearing a Pitcher

Artist: James Tissot

Medium: Watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper

Size: 24.4 x 16.4 cm

Date: c. 1890

Location: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.

Mark 14:12-16 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"

So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there."

The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

Many commentators point out that water jars were nearly always carried by women; a man carrying one would therefore be a noticeable sign. Households that could afford slaves always had them carry the water. Further, anyone with a two-story house, the second story containing a large upper room, would be considered well-to-do. These details certainly reinforce the fact that Jesus had followers who were among the wealthy class in Jerusalem, not all of his support coming from the disenfranchised peasantry.

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902) was a French painter. Sometime in the 1870s Tissot met an Irish divorcee, Mrs. Kathleen Newton, who became his companion and the model for many of his paintings. Mrs. Newton moved into Tissot's household in 1876 and lived with him until her suicide in the late stages of consumption in 1882 at the age of 28. While visiting the church of Saint-Sulpice, Tissot experienced a religious vision, after which he embarked on his ambitious project to illustrate the New Testament. He strove for historical authenticity, making expeditions to the Middle East to record the landscape, architecture, costumes, and customs of the Holy Land, convinced that the region had remained unchanged since Jesus’ time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Easter Story

Title: The Easter Story

Artist: Scott McDaniel

Medium: Four Color Process comic book cover

Size: 17 x 26 cm

Date: 1994

Location: From “The Life of Christ: The Easter Story” New York: Marvel/Nelson

Lent, in Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently.

The Passion of Christ has been interpreted by artists throughout the millennia since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each artist brings a personal perspective to the Gospel story, as did each evangelist when they documented the life of Christ. The oldest of these Gospels is that of Mark, which is generally accepted as having been written around 70 AD. Mark probably prepared his Gospel for a specific community that was suffering for it’s faith, and although the Roman church was persecuted in the time of Nero, it was by no means alone.

Scott McDaniel (b. 1965 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is a comic book artist who has drawn numerous books. Notable artwork includes Marvel Comics' Fall from Grace storyline for the Daredevil series, and a long run on DC Comics Batman as regular penciller. His work can be viewed on his website