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.