Sunday, December 25, 2011


Title: Nativity
Artist: Gentile da Fabriano
Medium: Tempera on panel
Size: 72 x 42.6 cm
Date: c. 1420-1422
Location: John Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.

“In these books of the prophets we found Jesus our Christ foretold as coming, born of a virgin, growing up to man's estate, and healing every disease and every sickness, and raising the dead, and being hated, and unrecognized, and crucified, and dying, and rising again, and ascending into heaven, and being, and being called, the Son of God.” Justin Martyr, First Apology Chapter XXX, c. 150 AD.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Recently I was lucky enough to take a pilgrimage, of sorts, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As many an art lover knows, the Met must surely be counted among the great museums of the world. Their permanent collection contains many great works of Western art by some of the most renowned painters of all time: Picasso, Van Gogh, Dali, Monet, El Greco, and countless others. As my personal interest leans toward paintings of a religious nature, I was spellbound by some of the works I was able to see first hand. My photography skills, lacking at the best of times, was doubly challenged by the requirement that no flash photography is allowed in the museum, but I did mange to cobble together a few good shots that I have complied here for all to enjoy.

Title: Massacre of the Innocents
Artist: Francois-Joseph Navez
Navez was a student of Jacques-Louis David in Paris. Navez’s style fuses David’s naturalism and idealization of Ingres, whom he also admired. Exhibited to great acclaim in the Brussels Salon of 1824, this work presents the Massacre of the Innocents as an intimate family drama, whose frightening realism struck critics. The delicate brush work, and the sense of depth were both striking to see in person. The swollen, tear stained eyes of the mother, as well as those of the muffled baby, made the work even more touching.

Title: The Dead Christ with Angels
Artist: Edouard Manet
This was the first of several paints by Manet with a religious theme. After the painting was already on its way to the 1864 Salon, Manet realized he had depicted Christ’s wound on the wrong side. He was advised to correct this “mistake” before the painting was exhibited so not “to give the malicious something to laugh at”. He chose not to, and although there was some ridicule, French writer Emile Zola gave the work the respect it deserved, noting that Manet’s intention was to emphasize the reality of the corpse, while calling attention to its holiness by including a halo. This painting, very large at (approximately) 6’ x 5’, was breathtaking to see in person. The stark portrayal of the body of Christ captivating the eye, as though the angels are propping Him up for all to see what has been done. Gorgeous.

Title: Joan of Arc
Artist: Jules Bastien-Lepage
With the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), the national heroine from Lorraine, Joan of Arc, acquired new symbolic importance among the French. At the 1880 Salon, Bastien-Lepage, himself a native of Lorraine, exhibited this painting, which represents the moment of Joan of Arc's divine revelation in her parents' garden. His depiction of the saints whose voices she heard elicited a mixed reaction from Salon critics, many of whom found the presence of the saints at odds with the naturalism of the artist's style. But, in fact, it is this juxtaposition that makes the painting so compelling. From across the gallery even before the ghostly saints could be discerned, the look in Joan’s eyes was noticeable. I even remarked “What’s with that girl’s eyes?” as I strolled over to take a closer look.

Titles: The Adoration of the Shepherds & The Vision of Saint John
Artist: El Greco
One of my favorite artists, El Greco, was nicely represented in the European Painting section. His stylistic idiosyncrasy and the deep religious devotion demonstrated in his paintings has, as I have grown older, made his work a joy to behold. Despite its unfinished and mutilated state (is a large fragment of one of three altarpieces El Greco was commissioned to paint in 1608 for the church of the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist), The Vision of Saint John remains enormously powerful. Its visionary treatment of space and dematerialization of form have been shown to have played a crucial role in the genesis of Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon

Title: The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John
Artist: Hendrick ter Brugghen
The strikingly archaic qualities of this picture, such as the angular figure of Christ, the shallow space, and the starry sky, have reminded many viewers of late-Medieval woodcuts, prints by Dürer, and Grünewald's Isenheim altarpiece. I was immediately struck by the color scheme the artist chose, with it’s greenish-browns and dripping blood, highlighting the macabre scene at the crucifixion. An arresting work that ter Brugghen, a protestant, evidentially painted for a Catholic "hidden church" in the Nerherlands.

Title: Madonna and Child
Artist: Carlo Crivelli
This modest-size, devotional painting of the Madonna and Child is one of the Crivelli’s most exquisite works. Exceptionally well preserved, it is usually dated to the 1470s. A willful contrast has been set up between the hyper-refined features of the Madonna—as precious and brittle as an eighteenth-century porcelain figurine—and the over-sized, naturalistic rendered fruit, which casts emphatic shadows onto the moired silk hanging, shown as though fastened to the frame by red laces. The haloes are embellished with jewels that are depicted as though they were actual objects applied to the flat, gilt surface. I was not familiar with Crivelli before my trip to the Met, and was just one of several wonderful discoveries there.

Title: Saint Julian
Artist: Taddeo Gaddi
Saint Julian, a nobleman of the ninth century, is shown holding his attribute, the sword with which he accidentally slew his parents. This well-preserved picture, which dates from the 1340s, is a cut-down lateral panel from an altarpiece. Taddeo Gaddi was a pupil of Giotto's and one of his most inventive followers, working alongside the master for many years.

Title: The Annunciation
Artist: Philipe de Champaigne
This picture was painted in 1644 for the private chapel, or oratory, of Anne of Austria, the widowed wife of Louis XIII. At first glance, I was inclined to dismiss the work as too stiff and too formal, but I soon became mesmerized by the details. From the grinning cherubs to the delicate toes of the angel, this work was full of small touches that made the painting a pleasurable viewing experience.

Unfortunately, I only had a few hours to tour the museum, with obligations elsewhere that took precedence over my trip to the Met. I will certainly endeavor to return one day (God willing) to look over some of the great works I had to give short shrift or miss altogether. With admission by donation, the entry fee is no obstacle to viewing some of the greatest artwork ever created. I would highly recommend a visit to this institution as it holds some real treasures, some irreplaceable works of art that enrich the soul and the human experience.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption of the Virgin

Title: The Assumption of the Virgin
Artist: Ambrogio Bergognone
Medium: Oil and gold on wood
Size: 242.3 x 108 cm
Date: c. 1510
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Assumption of Mary is a belief held by many Christians that the Virgin Mary, at the end of her life, was physically taken up into heaven. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), a narrative which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. Probably composed by the 4th century, this early Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." Pope John Paul II quoted John 14:3 as a scriptural basis for understanding the dogma. In this verse, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." According to Catholic theology, Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ's promise.

This picture, which dates from the early sixteenth century, was likely Bergognone's first treatment of this subject, and was the center panel of a large polyptych. Its delicacy is typical of his work, and there is the influence of Leonardo's facial types. The metal stars on the Virgin's mantle and the gold spandrels are later additions while the gilding on the lettering on the haloes is almost entirely gone.

Ambrogio Borgognone, variously known as Ambrogio da Fossano, Ambrogio di Stefano da Fossano, Ambrogio Stefani da Fossano or as il Bergognone (c. 1470s – 1523/1524), was an Italian Renaissance painter of the Milanese school. While he was nearly contemporary with Leonardo da Vinci, he painted in a style more akin to the pre-Renaissance, Lombard art of Vincenzo Foppa and Bernardino Zenale. The dates of his birth and death are unknown. His fame is principally associated with his work at the Certosa di Pavia complex, composed of the church and convent of the Carthusians.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 19 - Temptation of Christ

Title: Temptation of Christ
Artist: Ilya Repin
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: tbd
Date: 1896
Location: tbd


Matthew 4:8-10 Again the devil takes him to a very high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory, and says to him “All these things will I give thee if, falling down, thou wilt do me homage.” Then says Jesus to him, “Get thee away, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt do homage to the Lord thy God, and him alone shalt thou serve.”

Traditional academics have argued that great religious painting ends with Tiepolo (1696 – 1770), that subsequent painters produced charming works, but did nothing new. But as we have seen, the nineteenth century was a period of creative searching and upheaval for European artists, notably among the French. Traditionalists, like Ingres, tried to stem the tide of new styles, but by the time of his death in 1867, a new generation of creative talent, such as Manet and Cezanne, had forged the way ahead. The Symbolist movement, a continuation of the Romantic tradition of artists like Blake and Turner, anticipated the psychology of Freud and Jung. With notable artists such as Bocklin and Redon, their use of mythological and dream imagery created a visual language of the soul, and made extensive use of Christian imagery. More a philosophical approach than an actual style of art, they were a major influence on some Expressionists. Like most Europeans of the nineteenth century, all these artists were raised in a Christian culture, with early life organized around the central rituals of the church. This does not mean, necessarily, that they were pious, conservative church-goers, but only that such a milieu allowed their creative spirits inspiration to create some masterpieces of Christian art.

Ilya Yefimovich Repin (August 1844 – September, 1930) was a leading Russian painter and sculptor of the Peredvizhniki artistic school. His realistic works often expressed great psychological depth and exposed the tensions within the existing social order. During his maturity, Repin painted many of his most celebrated compatriots, including the novelist Leo Tolstoy. Additionally, Repin devoted much time to painting religious subjects, though his treatment of these was usually innovative and not traditional. Shortly after 1900 Repin moved to Kuokkala, Finland, located about an hour's train ride from St. Petersburg. Later, as the artist did not accept the Revolution of 1917, he did not want to go back to Russia, even though in 1926 a delegation sent by the Ministry of Education of the Soviet Union helped him financially and tried to entice him to return. To acknowledge and commemorate Repin's artistic achievement, in 1948 Kuokkala was renamed Repino.

Friday, August 5, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 18 -The Calvary

Title: The Calvary
Artist: Odilon Redon
Medium: Pastel on cardboard
Size: 69 x 53 cm
Date: c. 1895
Location: Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.


Mark 15:25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

Around the middle of the 1890s a religious mysticism takes the place of the dark visions of Redon’s work. Charcoal gives way to the bright pastel, and Christ figures prominently in his work. In "The Calvary" this new Redon, tense with religious hopes, tense also in the sense that he is subject to restrictive compulsions: the overemphasized "sacral" central axis of the Cross with the small crucified figure on the upper margin of the picture and the rigid, lamenting Mary in her red robe. It is to she whom the viewers eye is drawn, and we are forced to contemplate her plight, under Redon’s shimmering sky.

Bertrand-Jean Redon, better known as Odilon Redon (April 1840 – July 1916) was a French symbolist painter, printmaker, draughtsman and pastellist. The young Bertrand-Jean Redon acquired the nickname "Odilon" from his mother, Odile. Redon started drawing as a child, and at the age of ten he was awarded a drawing prize at school. Aged fifteen, he began the formal study of drawing, but on the insistence of his father he changed to architecture. His failure to pass the entrance exams at Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts ended any plans for a career as an architect. In the 1890s, pastel and oils became his favored media, and he produced no more noirs after 1900.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 17 - Mary Magdalene in the house of Simon the Pharisee

Title: Mary Magdalene in the house of Simon the Pharisee
Artist: Jean Beraud
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 101.2 x 131.5 cm
Date: 1891
Location: Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


Luke 7:36-47 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you. Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.” Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

This interesting and technically accomplished painting pulls the event recorded in Luke into the artist’s contemporary world. Only the figure of Jesus is timeless. All the others, including the startled maid at far right, are in modern dress. The painting was controversial when it first appeared, because people rightly suspected that Beraud was trying to make them uncomfortable by confronting them with their own failings, their own hypocrisy. Many of the well-heeled men in the painting would have had mistresses. Now they were confronted with reality, with raw human suffering, and they did not particularly like it. Interestingly, each person in this work is evidently illustrated with features of a personality from of the world of political or the arts. Christ is illustrated with the features of the socialist journalist Albert Duke-Quercy and Simon the Pharisee those of the writer Ernest Renan.

Jean Beraud (January 1849 – October 1935) was a French painter and commercial artist noted for his paintings of Parisian life during the Belle Époque. He was born in St. Petersburg, son of a French sculptor. Studied law in Paris, then turned to painting after the Franco-Prussian War and studied for two years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Bonnat. While his Impressionist contemporaries were moving out into the country to study the changing effects of the landscape during the late nineteenth century, Beraud remained rooted in Paris, studying the city life and its people. By the 1890s Beraud had interestingly decided to pursue religious themes, although at one point they had become the antithesis of progressive artistic dictum. As noted by Art critic Gabriel P. Weisberg “ the end of the century there were so many religious compositions – and painters – that the world of art was flooded with religious sentimentality.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 16 - The Miracle of the Gaderene Swine

Title: The Miracle of the Gaderene Swine
Artist: Briton Riviere
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 107.9 x 160.7 cm
Date: 1883
Location: Tate Gallery, London.


Mark 5:1-20 They went across the lake to the region of the Gaderene. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Jesus' request for the name of the demon brings the response Legion, a reference to a unit made up of thousands of soldiers. No doubt the name indicates the extent of the possession and the difficulty of Jesus' task in dealing with it. But the demons feared Jesus, feared being sent away, so they asked to be allowed to inhabit the swine on a nearby hill. The choice of pigs is interesting, given their association with uncleanliness in the Old Testament (Lev 11:7). It is not clear why the demons made such a request, other than to escape judgment. The demons' request is granted, but their relief is short-lived. The pigs apparently are startled and rush headlong over a cliff and into the sea. In Judaism the sea was a symbol of potential evil, so this becomes an illustration of evil's destructiveness. When the people travel out to the scene of the miracle, they see a transformed man sitting at Jesus' feet dressed and in his right mind. The people's reaction is instructive; for some people it is very difficult to let God and his power get close to them. These people recognized that Jesus had power, and it aroused fear in them, and they chose to have nothing to do with it. Jesus possesses authority so great that he can reverse the effects of evil. Some are transformed by that power--turned from a path of uncleanliness, destruction and death to life and testimony. But others fear it and want God's presence to be distant from them. They fear what involvement with God's power might entail.

Briton Riviere (1840-1920) was an Irish artist born in London, England. The son of an artistic father, he gave early promise of distinction in the realm of art. At the age of eighteen he exhibited three works at the Royal Academy, and by 1863 that he became a regular contributor to the Academy exhibitions. In that year he was represented by "The Eve of the Spanish Armada", and in 1864 by a "Romeo and Juliet". Subjects of this kind did not, however, attract him long, for in 1865 he began, with a picture of a "Sleeping Deer-hound", a series of paintings of animal-subjects which later occupied him almost exclusively. Even in this branch of art he has successfully introduced the religious element, as may be seen in The Miracle of the Gaderene Swine and his popular painting of Daniel in the lion’s den, Daniel's Answer to the King, housed in the Walker Art Gallery.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 15 - The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus

Title: The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus
Artist: Gabriel Max
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 71.9 x 87.9 cm
Date: 1881
Location: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.


Luke 8:51-56 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

The model for Christ has been identified as Joseph Mair, who played the role of the Lord in the famous Oberammergau Passion Play, and the artist’s first wife, Emma Kitzinger, is thought to have posed for the daughter of Jairus. Although favoring the dark tones of his teacher Karl Theodor von Piloty, Max shows his own tendency to add light, delicate tones where applicable. Here, the daughter of Jairus glows with a renewed life, as though the power of Jesus has flowed from his darkened figure, and poured into her. Her expression appears almost bewildered as she rises up from her resting place.

Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max (August 1840 – November 1915) was born in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied between 1855 and 1858 at the Prague Academy of Arts with Eduard von Engerth. From 1863 to 1867 he studied at the Munich Academy with Karl Theodor von Piloty, and also Hans Makart and Franz Defregger. His first critical success was in 1867 with the painting "Martyr at the Cross": that painting transformed the dark palette of Piloty into a religious-mystical symbolism using a psychological rendering of its subject. He continued to use the dark palette of the Piloty school well into the 1870s, later moving toward a more muted palette, using fewer, clearer colors.

Monday, August 1, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 14 - Sleeping Lazarus

Title: Sleeping Lazarus
Artist: Franciszek Zmurko
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: tbd.
Date: 1877
Location: Private Collection.


John 11:38-44 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Zmurko depicts Lazarus is in the tomb, but the light shining on his body suggests that the stone blocking its entrance has been partially pulled away. He is unconscious, perhaps still dead, but he also seems to be listening. Does he hear the voice of Jesus, calling his name? Zmurko specialized in paintings in which the subject seemed half-awake, half-asleep. The person in this painting, Lazarus, is not bothered by thoughts, but rests in an unconscious state. His muscles are shrunken in death but his face has a look of utter peace - and why not? He has led a good life and been a friend of Jesus - could he ask for more?

Franciszek Zmurko (July 1859 – October 1910) was a Polish painter. Zmurko began drawing lessons as a young boy in his hometown with the painter Franciszek Tepa. As an adolescent he moved to Krakow to study at the Academy of Fine Arts where he had lessons from Jan Matejko. In 1877 Zmurko moved to Vienna, Austria where he was accepted at the Vienna Academy, but left soon thereafter to study under Aleksander Wagner in Munich. Zmurko returned to Krakow in 1880 and then moved to Warsaw in 1882 where he remained until his death in 1910.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 13 - The Deposition

Title: The Deposition
Artist: Arnold Böcklin
Medium: Tempera and colored varnish on panel
Size: 160 x 250 cm
Date: c. 1874
Location: Nationalgalerie, Berlin.


John 19:38-40 And after these things Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly through fear of the Jews, demanded of Pilate that he might take the body of Jesus: and Pilate allowed it. He came therefore and took away the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus also, who at first came to Jesus by night, came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. They took therefore the body of Jesus and bound it up in linen with the spices, as it is the custom with the Jews to prepare for burial.

This painting demonstrates Böcklin's flair for archaization, one already employed by the Nazarenes, is seen in the Quattrocento coloring of this Deposition. A color palate consisting primarily of musty blues and greens, a deathly pallor covers the whole scene, as though the shade of Christ’s body is emanating and tinting the whole of the world. Part camp theatricality, part convinced and convincing Christianity, part prophecy, this canvas proved to be an Avant-Garde and unpopular work when first exhibited at the Vienna Exposition.

Arnold Böcklin (October 1827 –January 1901) was a Swiss symbolist painter. He was on of the major Swiss painter of the 19th century, and he exerted a great influence on the German-speaking countries through the expression of a heightened Romanticism and poeticism. He was trained in Germany, Flanders, and Paris, and spent seven years in Rome (1850-57), where he transformed his early naturalistic landscapes, more or less in the manner of Corot, into symbolic subjects with figures epitomizing the mood of the landscape. He was in Munich in 1871-74, in 1885 in Hottingen (Switzerland). However, like other German artists of the period, he spent much of rest of his life in Italy, where he died in Fiesole near Florence.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 12 - Virgin of the Deliverance

Title: Virgin of the Deliverance
Artist: Ernest Hebert
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 40.3 x 28.3 cm
Date: c. 1872
Location: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.


In art, the term “The Madonna” is applied specifically to an artwork in which Mary, with or without the infant Jesus, is the focus and central figure of the picture. Mary and the infant may be surrounded by adoring angels or worshiping saints, however paintings which have a narrative content are usually given a title that reflects the scene. Half-length paintings of the Madonna and Child are also common in Italian Renaissance painting, particularly in Venice.

This painting is a variant based on a large-scale altarpiece that Hébert painted in time for the Salon of 1872 and that was finally installed in the church of his native town, La Tronche, the following year. Unlike the original altarpiece, which has a patterned background, this version is stylized to recall the conventions of Byzantine icons. The gold ground, raised haloes and Greek letters-mu, rho, theta, and upsilon: the abbreviation of "Maria Theotokos" (Mary God-bearer), often found in Byzantine mosaics-lend the painting a schematic flatness that contrasts dramatically with the otherwise convincingly three-dimensional figures.

Ernest Hebert (November 1817 - December 1908), sometimes known as Antoine Auguste Ernest Hebert, was a French painter and academic. Though he took drawing lessons from the age of ten from the French painter Benjamin Rolland, his father wished him to become a lawyer, and in 1834 he moved to Paris to study law. While there he also studied drawing and painting, and in 1839, the year he passed his law exams, he also won the Prix de Rome for his painting 'The Cup of Joseph Found in the Sack of Benjamin.' During his lifetime Hebert became one of the most highly regarded and decorated painters of his generation, winning medals at several "Expositions Universelles" (World's Fairs), and the Grande Croix of the Legion of Honor in 1903.

Friday, July 29, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 11 - Christ in Limbo

Title: Christ in Limbo
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 170 x 97 cm
Date: c. 1867
Location: Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


Christ’s Descent into Hell, or Descent into Limbo, is a legend not depicted in any of the canonical Gospels. One of the first written references can be found in the Apocryphal text, the Gospel of Nicodemus. Before his bodily Resurrection, Jesus descended into Hell and led the just, the patriarchs, the prophets of the Old Testament and Adam and Eve, into the light. Later, a clarity was introduced that they had not been in Hell at all, but in the bordering region, Limbo (from the Latin word limbus, a hem); it was taught that because they lived and died before the Christ's self-sacrifice for peoples redemption, they were put in the lower place until such time when Jesus could liberate them. the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "...Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.”

During the 1860s, Cézanne turned his hand to murals to decorate the family home, Jas de Bouffan, near Aix-en-Provence. As indicated in documents from the period, this fragment, Christ in Limbo, was part of a much larger composition. Another work in the Musée d'Orsay, La Madeleine, was also part of it, although scholars attest there is no aesthetic reason to link the two. In Cézanne’s painting of Christ's descent into Limbo, the dwelling place between death and resurrection, the artist depicts the place with a careful use of color against a black background. The reds and peaches, combined with the loose brushstrokes. create a vigorous impasto intercepting light and portray a scene glimpsed through shimmering waves of heat. The souls of the Just in the Old Testament who await Redemption kneel before the Redeemer. In fact, the characters in the bottom left hand corner are probably Adam and Eve.

Paul Cézanne (January 1839 – October 1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. The line attributed to both Matisse and Picasso that Cézanne "is the father of us all" cannot be easily dismissed. Cézanne's work demonstrates a mastery of design, color, tone, composition and draftsmanship. His often sensitive and exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. During his Dark Period in Paris, 1861–1870, Cézanne was given to depression, and his works of this period are characterized by dark colors and the heavy use of black. They differ sharply from his earlier watercolors and sketches at the École Spéciale de dessin at Aix-en-Provence in 1859, and the violence of expression is in contrast to his subsequent works.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 10 - Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers

Title: Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers
Artist: Edouard Manet
Medium: Oil on board
Size: 190.82 x 148.27 cm
Date: 1865
Location: The Art Institute of Chicago.


Mark 15:16-18 The soldiers took Jesus into the governor's palace (called the Praetorium) and called all the other soldiers together. They put a purple robe on Jesus and used thorny branches to make a crown for his head. They began to call out to him, "Hail, King of the Jews!"

Manet depicts the moment when Christ’s captors mock the “king of the Jews” by crowning him with thorns and covering him with a purple robe. Unlike more traditional academic religious painting that portrays Jesus as a divine, other-worldly being, the figure here is not idealized. Jesus is depicted as human and vulnerable, awkwardly posed and un-heroic in demeanor. In fact, it is the soldiers themselves who reveal Christ’s divinity to the viewer. Far from being the torturers whose violent gestures populate art history, these are men who seem almost stunned in the presence of Christ. The torturer with the rod kneels in homage more than he readies himself for his cruel task; the fur-clad figure at the right holds Christ's cloak as if it were a royal robe. Because of its decidedly rebellious presentation of the subject, Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers was received at the 1865 Salon with an outburst of negative criticism.

Édouard Manet (January 1832 – April 1883) was a French painter. As one of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) and Olympia, engendered great controversy and served as rallying points for the young painters who would create Impressionism. Today, these are considered watershed paintings that mark the genesis of modern art. Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he did not wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he preferred to exhibit at the Salon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 9 - The Wise and Foolish Virgins

Title: The Wise and Foolish Virgins
Artist: Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Medium: Pen and ink and grey wash, with scratching out.
Size: 45.8 x 60.5 cm
Date: 1859
Location: Private collection.


Matthew 25:1-13 “... the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ They replied, ‘No, there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Burne-Jones's early pen-and-ink drawings are among his rarest and most fascinating productions. Only some ten finished examples were executed. The Wise and Foolish Virgins, both large in scale and on paper, are qualities consistent with a more expansive, confident approach and a new interest in dramatic intensity and atmospheric effect. The influence of his mentor Rossetti is still quite evident, but by this time Burne-Jones has begun to find his own artistic voice. In fact the drawing has a good claim to be the masterpiece among his early works in this medium.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet (August 1833 – June 1898) was an English artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company. Burne-Jones had intended to become a church minister, but under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, co-founder the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he decided to leave college to pursue a career in art. In February 1857, Rossetti wrote “Jones's designs are marvels of finish and imaginative detail, unequaled by anything unless perhaps Albert Dürer's finest works.” Burne-Jones was closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in England.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 8 - The Disciples at Emmaus

Title: The Disciples at Emmaus
Artist: Eugène Delacroix
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 55.2 x 47 cm
Date: 1853
Location: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.


Luke 24:28-35 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Delacroix has located this miraculous apparition in a darkened interior, which becomes dramatically illuminated by Christ’s golden halo. Jesus stands with a powerful backward stance, echoing the diagonal line of the staircase, breaking the bread with his large hands. The casual posture of the disciple on the right conveys the relaxation of a meal shared among friends, whereas the disciple on the left registers the wonder of the moment. The surprised disciple’s face is turned toward Jesus, Delacroix preferring the use of a bodily gesture—an up-flung left hand—rather than facial expression to convey amazement. In addition to shrewd compositional strategies and theatrical lighting, the artist’s characteristically loose paint handling of his later compositions adds a further note of dramatic energy to the work.

Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix (April 1798 – August 1863) was a French painter regarded from the outset of his career as a leader of the French Romantic school. In 1815 he entered the studio of the neoclassical painter Pierre Narcisse Guérin, where he met Théodore Géricault, a romantic painter by whom he was much influenced. Delacroix took for his inspiration the art of Rubens and painters of the Venetian Renaissance, with an attendant emphasis on color and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modeled form. Delacroix's use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of color profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.

Monday, July 25, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 7 Christ's Entry into Jerusalem

Title: Christ's Entry into Jerusalem
Artist: Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin
Medium: Fresco
Size: tbd
Date: 1846
Location: Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris.


Matthew 21:1-9 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”.

The wall panels throughout the nave and choir of Saint-Germain-des-Prés are work of Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, from 1842-1849. It is apparent from contemporary criticism that Flandrin's mural scheme attracted much attention for its abstracted forms, and flattened frieze like compositions running the length of the choir. Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, in the Sanctuary on the left of the high altar, is a fine example in this outstanding series of frescos. Christ, majestic though he rides a humble donkey, is surrounded by an adoring throng. Men and women bow down before him, the excitement so great that to the right a man even lifts a child to glimpse “the Son of David.” The compression of depth that Flandrin achieved creates an even further sense of being part of a packed throng.

Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (March 1809 – March 1864) was a 19th-century French painter. He was the second of three sons, all of whom were painters in some aspect. Hippolyte and Paul, his younger brother, spent some time at Lyon, saving to leave for Paris in 1829 and study under Louis Hersent. Eventually, they settled in the studio of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who became not only their instructor but their friend for life. At first, Hippolyte reportedly struggled as a poor artist. However, in 1832, he won the Prix de Rome for his painting Recognition of Theseus by his Father. This prestigious art scholarship meant that he was no longer limited by his poverty. Though Flandrin painted a great number of portraits, he is much more known today for his monumental decorative paintings, such as those at St Germain des Prés in Paris.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 6 - Angels Ministering to Christ in the Wilderness

Title: Angels Ministering to Christ in the Wilderness
Artist: Thomas Cole
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: tbd
Date: 1843
Location: Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Ma.


Matthew 4:10-11 Jesus said to him, Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

In this painting Cole provides us with two sources of primary light – the distant horizon and the celestial spot light that shines down directly on an exhausted yet satisfied Christ. The angles, supplicant in their service, provide food and drink. In contrast to the barren stretches of landscape behind him, Jesus is very cozy in the intimate group in the foreground. Despite the esteem with which Cole's allegorical works were regarded, some patrons preferred his identifiably American scenes. Cole was disappointed at this preference, and paintings like Angels Ministering to Christ in the Wilderness seem to be an attempt to satisfy both his desire for scenes invested with moral or literary meaning, and his patrons desire for pastoral and natural imagery.

Thomas Cole (February 1801 – February, 1848) was an English-born American artist. He is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century. Cole's Hudson River School, as well as his own work, was known for its realistic and detailed portrayal of American landscape and wilderness, which feature themes of romanticism and naturalism. He was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and in 1818 his family emigrated to the United States, settling in Steubenville, Ohio. Cole learned the rudiments of his profession from a wandering portrait painter named Stein. However, he had little success painting portraits, and his interest shifted to landscape. Cole's unexpected death in 1848 at the young age of forty-seven was deeply mourned in New York art and literary circles. Both his art and his legacy provided the foundation for the native landscape school that dominated American painting until the late 1860s.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 5 - Christus Consolator

Title: Christus Consolator
Artist: Ary Scheffer
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 184 x 248 cm
Date: 1836-37
Location: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.


Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, I have come to heal those who are brokenhearted and to announce to the prisoners their deliverance; to liberate those who are crushed by their chains.”

At the center of the composition is the figure of Christ, surrounded by the afflicted and oppressed. A kneeling woman mourns her dead child, while in the background we see an exile with his walking stick, a castaway with a piece of the wreckage in his hand, and a suicide with a dagger. Placed near these groups are Torquato Tasso (crowned with laurel), a brilliant 16th-century poet imprisoned as a madman, and figures representing the three ages of women. To the right of Christ are the oppressed of both the past and present, among them a Polish independence fighter, a Greek Souliote warrior, a Roman slave, and a black slave. With his left hand Christ releases from his shackles a dying man, the personification of Poland with the shattered weapons of its failed insurrection against Russia by his side, his exposed, wounded body draped in the Polish flag. The repentant Mary Magdalene kneels beside Christ. It is an encyclopedic interpretation of human history that transports the viewer from modern-day Poland, Greece, and America to both the ancient and medieval eras. The composition reflects the renewed interest in France during the 1830s for a more liberal activism within the Catholic Church. On a personal level, it also reveals the artist’s appreciation for various European art movements, especially, the markedly religious Nazarene circle in Germany.

The Dutch-born and French-trained artist Ary Scheffer (February 1795 - June 1858) was one of the pre-eminent Romantic painters active in Paris during the first half of the 19th century. Although his earliest works concentrated on illustrating Romantic literature or overtly sentimental genre subjects, after 1830 he became increasingly occupied with Old and New Testament themes. Christus Consolator created a sensation when exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1837, where it was purchased by the French monarch’s son, the Duc d’Orléans, as a wedding present for his Lutheran fiancée, the Princess Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Scheffer’s religious subjects were the source of his international reputation during his lifetime, and, one might argue, the epitome of his genius. Christus Consolator was, after Holman Hunt’s contemporaneous Light of the World, the most popular religious image throughout the Western world during the middle decades of the 19th century.

Friday, July 22, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 4 - Death on a Pale Horse

Title: Death on a Pale Horse
Artist: J. M. W. Turner
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 59.7 x75.6 cm
Date: c. 1825-30
Location: Tate Gallery, London.


Revelation 6:7-9 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Although possibly incomplete, the subject can be identified as Death, the last of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who announce the Day of Judgment in the Book of Revelation. The choice may have been in response to the death of Turner’s father in 1829, suggested by the unusual treatment which is both tender and menacing. Death appears, not as a triumphant, upright figure astride his horse, but as a phantom emerging from a turbulent mist: his skeletal form, arms outstretched, and draped submissively over the horse’s pale back. Such disturbing visions were considered to embody the very concept of the Sublime.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (April 1775 – December 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, water colorist and print maker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting. Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolor landscape painting. As he grew older, Turner became more eccentric. He had few close friends except for his father, who lived with him for 30 years, eventually working as his studio assistant. His father's death in 1829 had a profound effect on him, and thereafter he was subject to bouts of depression.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 3 - Lamentation

Title: Lamentation
Artist: Paul Delaroche
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 49.5 x 32.7 cm
Date: 1820
Location: Dahesh Museum of Art, Greenwich, CT.


John 19:25-30 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This is one of Delaroche's earliest known works and exemplifies the religious imagery that found favor in the opening years of the Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830), when the Catholic church regained much of the power it had lost during the French Revolution. In 1820 the Duchess of Orléans, wife of the Duke of Orléans (the future King Louis-Philippe), commissioned the young Delaroche, still an unknown student in the atelier of Baron Gros, to paint a Lamentation for the family chapel at the Palais Royal in Paris. That same year he also executed this smaller version, perhaps a presentation model submitted for final approval. However, the two compositions differ substantially, and this could also have been an independent work painted for the member of the ducal household to whom it is dedicated. Delaroche created a traditional but deeply moving depiction of the mourning Virgin, whose intense suffering is symbolized by the swords that pierce her heart.

Hippolyte Delaroche (July 1797 – November 1856), commonly known as Paul Delaroche, was a French painter born in Paris. Delaroche was born into a wealthy family and was trained by Antoine-Jean, Baron Gros, who then painted life-size histories and had many students. By 1822, with the arrival of Romanticism in Paris challenging the dominance of Neo-classicism, Delaroche was to steer a course between the two currents, unwilling to opt for full-blooded Romanticism for fear of jeopardizing his public standing. Delaroche's paintings, with their straightforward technique and dramatic compositions, became very popular. He applied essentially the same treatment to the characters of distant historical times, the founders of Christianity, and various figures of his own day such as "Napoleon at Fontainebleau."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 2 - Jesus Handing St Peter the Keys to Paradise

Title: Jesus Handing St Peter the Keys to Paradise
Artist: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 280 x 217 cm
Date: 1820
Location: Musée Ingres, Montauban.


Matthew 16:15-19 “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

The success of Jesus Handing St Peter the Keys to Paradise lead Ingres to stiffen many of his compositions, giving the historical scenes as well as portraits sometimes a too pronounced solemn character. In this image, however, the stiffness achieves the wonderful effect of making the painting seem like a living Icon. The photo-realism of the robes contrasts the stylized halos; the realistic expressions contrast the formality of their posture, and so on. Even as a guardian of tradition, Ingres cannot help but nod towards the future.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (August 1780 – January 1867) was a French Neoclassical painter. Although he considered himself to be a painter of history in the tradition of Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David, by the end of his life it was Ingres's portraits, both painted and drawn, that were recognized as his greatest legacy. A man profoundly respectful of the past, he assumed the role of a guardian of academic orthodoxy against the ascendant Romantic style. Ingres influence on later generations of artists has been considerable. His most significant heir was Degas, who studied under Louis Lamothe, a minor disciple of Ingres. In the 20th century, Picasso and Matisse were among those who acknowledged a debt to the great classicist; Matisse described him as the first painter "to use pure colors, outlining them without distorting them."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 1 - The Conversion of Saul

Title: The Conversion of Saul
Artist: William Blake
Medium: Watercolor and pen drawing over pencil
Size: 40.9 x 35.8 cm
Date: c. 1800
Location: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino.


Acts of the Apostles 9:3-9 As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” he asked. “I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said. “But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone.

Rather than falling to the earth as the bible describes Saul, Blake pictures him astride a great horse that has gone to ground. Saul looks up to the vision above in rapt awe and extends his arms in a cruciform gesture that foreshadows his acceptance of Christ’s crucifixion as a cornerstone of his new faith. One face on the left is turned upward to be illuminated by divine light, but the remainder of the helmeted soldiers accompanying Saul bow their heads and cover their eyes, hearing a voice but seeing no man. The single visual witness stresses the corporeality of Christ’s presence and suggests that the vision given to Saul can transfigure all but those who willfully turn from the light.

William Blake (November 1757 – August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and print maker. One of Blake’s main influences was the society in which he lived. He lived during revolutionary times and witnessed the downfall of London during Britain’s war with republican France. His disgust with society grew as he matured and 'The Songs of Innocence and Experience' depict this transition. He held radical religious ideas for the time; he did not believe in a religion of nature or reason, but thought man’s nature was imaginative and mystical. Blake’s preoccupation with good and evil as well as his strong philosophical and religious beliefs remained throughout his life and he never stopped depicting them in his poetry and engravings. He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1827. It seems his art had been too adventurous and unconventional for early nineteenth century, and he did not become widely known until 1863 with Alexander Gilchrist’s biography.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Title: St. Panteleimon the Healer
Artist: Nicholas Roerich
Medium: Tempera on canvas
Size: 44.5 x 78.5 cm
Date: 1931
Location: Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York.


Saint Panteleimon, or Saint Pantaleon, counted in the West among the late-medieval Fourteen Holy Helpers and in the East as one of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, was a martyr of Nicomedia in Bithynia during the Diocletian persecution of 303 AD. Pantaleon was the son of a rich pagan, Eustorgius of Nicomedia, and had been instructed in Christianity by his Christian mother, Saint Eubula; however, after her death he fell away from the Christian church, while he studied medicine with a renowned physician Euphrosinos. He was won back to Christianity by Saint Hermolaus, who convinced him that Christ was the better physician: "But, my friend, of what use are all thy acquirements in this art, since thou art ignorant of the science of salvation?” By miraculously healing a blind man by invoking the name of Jesus over him, Panteleimon converted his father, upon whose death he came into possession of a large fortune, but freed his slaves and, distributing his wealth among the poor, developed a great reputation in Nicomedia. Envious colleagues denounced him to the emperor during the Diocletian persecution. The emperor wished to save him and sought to persuade him to apostasy. Panteleimon, however, openly confessed his faith, and as proof that Christ is the true God, he healed a paralytic. Notwithstanding this, he was condemned to death by the emperor, who regarded the miracle as an exhibition of magic.

In the Eastern tradition, this saint is canonically depicted as a beardless young man with a full head of curly hair. It is interesting, then, that a Russian painter should diverge so profoundly, and give us a wizened old Panteleimon, appearing to gather flowers and herbs from the flourishing mountain meadows. Medicinal ingredients, perhaps, for his work as a healer. And then, in keeping with Roerichs deep spiritual connection with the mountains, one wonders if the Saint is not taking from the earth, but rather giving back to her.

Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich (October 1874 - December 1947), was first-born son of lawyer and notary, Konstantin Roerich and his wife Maria. He was raised in the comfortable environment of an upper middle-class Russian family with its advantages of contact with the writers, artists, and scientists who often came to visit the Roerichs. His father did not want him to pursue painting as a career, but rather to study law. He made a compromise, and after finishing his studies in 1893, Roerich simultaneously entered the Saint-Petersburg University (he graduated in 1898) and the Emperor’s Academy of Arts. From 1895, he studied in the studio of the famous Russian landscape painter Arkhip Kuindzhi. This training undoubtedly came to fruition later in life when, in 1928, he settled his family in the Kullu Valley at an elevation of 6,500 feet in the Himalayan foothills, with a magnificent view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Here they established their home and the headquarters of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute.