Saturday, August 21, 2010

Christ on the Road to Emmaus

Title: Christ on the Road to Emmaus

Artist: Unknown

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 64 x 77 cm

Date: c. 1725

Location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Luke 24:13-24: Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

Thomas gets all the contemporary press as a doubter of the resurrection, but it is clear that he was merely one of a crowd, and these two followers are not yet convinced that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Like modern people in their skepticism, they will be persuaded only if they actually see Jesus. Here, then, is the major lesson of the Emmaus Road experience: though resurrection is hard to believe, be assured that it took place. Its reality means that Jesus' claims are true. He was more than a teacher and more than a prophet. He was the promised, anointed one of God. A host of skeptics saw that this was so, and they believed. Remember what God required of his Messiah: suffering, then vindication in exaltation.

Religion has always been a major inspiration for the folk artist. In the beginning of the eighteenth century new waves of immigrant painters arrived in the United States who were influenced by the High Renaissance concepts of painting by Italian and Dutch artists fulfilling commissions in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the Hudson Valley, Dutch settlers between New York City in the south and Albany in the north produced a body of religious art of great significance. They and their descendants adorned their walls with paintings based on illustrations in Bibles brought from the Netherlands. Backgrounds were simplified and stylized, and the painting often had a linear, two-dimensional feeling.

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