Monday, April 4, 2011

Two Disciples at the Tomb

Title: Two Disciples at the Tomb
Artist: Henry Ossawa Tanner
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 129.5 x 105.7 cm
Date: c. 1906
Location: The Art Institute of Chicago.

John 20:2-10 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

In this painting, John’s youthful face reflects the emptiness of the arched tomb. Next to him, bowing his head in awe, stands the bearded disciple Peter, who will later become the leader of the Christian church. The sense of spirituality is emphasized by the light radiating from the tomb. Although Tanner depicted a wide range of subjects he considered himself primarily a painter of religious subjects. “Two Disciples at the Tomb” became one of Tanner’s most well-known religious paintings in America, giving him at long last the kind of recognition that he had received abroad. Called "the most impressive and distinguished work of the season" in 1906, the painting competed against 350 other works to win the Harris Silver Medal at The Art Institute of Chicago. The museum purchased the painting later that year.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (June 1859 – May 1937) was an African American artist who earned international acclaim for his religious paintings. His father was a prominent minister and his mother a former slave who escaped the South through the Underground Railroad. At age eleven, Tanner decided to become an artist, and nine years later the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts accepted him, the only African American out of two hundred students. Throughout his life Tanner kept close ties with his native country and was proud of his contributions as a black American, but chose to live in France, where he felt that his race mattered less to other artists and critics. His painting “Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City” hangs in the Green Room at the White House, the first painting by an African-American artist to enter the permanent collection of the White House.

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