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.

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