Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cursing of the Fig Tree

Title: Jesus curses the Fig Tree
Artist: James Tissot

Medium: Watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper

Size: 22.7 x 30.8 cm

Date: c. 1890

Location: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.

The eighth miracle account that displays Jesus' power over nature is recorded in Mark 11:12-14; 20-25. This miracle is known as the Cursing of the Fig Tree, and in Mark brackets the account of Jesus driving the money changers and merchants from the temple in Jerusalem.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. [...] In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Jesus answered, Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (October 1836 – August 1902) was a French painter. After the death of his longtime companion Kathleen Newton in 1882, Tissot experienced a religious vision, after which he embarked on his ambitious project to illustrate the New Testament. Striving for historical accuracy, he made several expeditions to the Middle East to record the landscape and people of the Holy Land.

Title: Jesus Christ and the fruitless leafy tree
Artist: Alexandre Bida

Medium: Etching

Size: tdb.

Date: 1873

Location: Reproduced in “The Gospels in art: the life of Christ, by great painters from Fra Angelico to Holman Hunt” by Walter Shaw Sparrow, Pg 202.

Although the Gospel states that Jesus “found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.”, we should not read this passage as if it were a horticultural manual. As these events bracket the cleansing of the temple we are meant to see that the fate of the unfruitful tree symbolizes the character and fate of the magnificent temple of Jerusalem. Jesus expected the temple to be a house of prayer, for the temple authorities to conduct their affairs unobscured by commercial exploitation. As Jesus saw it, there is never an off season for the Temple. Yet the temple authorities failed to produce fruit. In the words of writer Joseph O’Hanlon: All leaves, and no figs.

Alexandre Bida (1813–1895) was born in Toulouse, France and was a painter of the Romantic period. He specialized in Orientalism and studied under Eugène Delacroix, but with an artist's eye for precision and perfection, he soon developed his own style. During Bida's youth, he traveled and worked in Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Palestine. He was also an illustrator of the Holy Bible. As a Bible illustrator, Bida's Les Saints Evangeles was published in 1873. In it, the four gospels were enriched by his twenty-eight etchings. Of Bida's work, it was said that he brought a truth and genius that made his Christ reverent, refined, dignified, and strong.

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