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.”

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