Sunday, March 26, 2017
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Title: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Artist: Johannes Vermeer
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 160 x 142 cm
Location: National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Luke 10:38-42: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary and Martha may be the most familiar set of sisters in the Bible. Both Luke and John describe them as friends of Jesus. Luke's story, though only four verses long, is unique, and has been a source of endless interpretation and debate. On the Surface, Mary’s eagerness to absorb Jesus’ teaching at the expense of a more traditional womanly role would have shocked most Jewish men of that time, and challenges the roles designated for women in the first century. In the religious context of Vermeer's time, the scene illustrated one of the fundamental differences between Catholics and Protestants: the latter sought salvation in action while the former placed greater value on the contemplative life. Vermeer's treatment of this subject, which focuses on the message that Christ is transmitting, may reflect his sympathetic response to the Catholic Church in the mid-1650s.
Johannes, Jan or Johan Vermeer (1632 –1675) was a Dutch painter who specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. Although moderately successful in his lifetime, he was evidently not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death. Even his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death, and he was barely mentioned in surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. This early work by Vermeer shows few of the stylistic concerns that would characterise his mature works, instead using a more discreet number of elegant, yet complacent brushstrokes. Rendered with almost naive sincerity, this shallow treatment is evident on the robes of the figures of Christ and Martha, the folds indicated with free-flowing, sloshy brushstrokes, ignoring volume or an underlying substance. Christ, because of the soft glow that radiates from his head and his emphatic gesture, is the dominant figure in this piece. Since the 19th century Vermeer's reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Title: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes
Artist: Konrad Witz
Medium: Tempera on wood
Size: 132 x 151 cm
Location: Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva.
Luke 5:1-11: One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Christ’s calling his newfound disciples to be fishers of people is related in both Matthew 4:18 and Mark 1:16, but rather than focusing only on the calling of his disciples, Luke also relates this miraculous draught of fishes. By this vast draught of fishes, Christ intended to show his dominion in the seas as well as on the dry land, over its wealth as over its waves. Thus he would show that he was that Son of man under whose feet all things were put, particularly ‘the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas’ (Ps. 8:8). The size of the catch tells Simon and his companions that this event has been no accident. The greatest moment in their fishing career causes them to stop and ponder what God is doing. Jesus has taken Peter's humble faith and scared him to death with God's presence. But in the uncertainty that often surrounds faith comes the divine voice that says, "Don't be afraid."
Konrad Witz (ca. 1400 - ca. 1445) was a German-born painter from Rottweil in Swabia, active in Switzerland and generally considered a member of the Swiss school. Although few paintings by him survive, these few show that he was remarkably advanced in his naturalism, suggesting a knowledge of the work of his contemporaries Jan van Eyck and the Master of Flémalle. Witz's most famous works are the four surviving panels (forming two wings) from the altarpiece of St Peter he painted for the cathedral in Geneva (although the central panel is lost). The Miraculous Draught of Fishes is Witz's masterpiece and his only signed and dated work. The landscape setting depicts part of Lake Geneva, and Witz's remarkable naturalism is evident in his observation of reflection and refraction in the water.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
The Lenten season, a time for fasting and abstinence, can also be a time for prayer and reflection. As the Gospel According to Luke has many unique parables, teachings, and narrative episodes, Lent seems like the ideal time to have a look at a few paintings inspired by some of these passages.
Title: Annunciation to the Shepherds
Artist: Adam Pynacker
Medium: Oil on Panel
Size: 38.7 cm
Date: ca. 1640
Location: The Legion of Honor, San Francisco.
Luke 2:8-15: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Although the Nativity narrative is also found in Matthew, the details of each account differ. Unique to Luke is the inclusion on the annunciation to the shepherds. Whereas Matthew records the recognition of Jesus by Magi, men of high reputation and standing, Luke describes the visit of shepherds, people of low esteem. Because their work prevented them from keeping the ceremonial law, shepherds were a despised class. Often regarded as thieves, they were considered unreliable and not allowed to give evidence in court. This is the beauty of Luke's gospel: God puts equal importance on each of us no matter our present station. Note as well that the angel calls Jesus “Savior”, one of only two times this word is used in reference to Jesus in all four Gospels (cf. John 4:42), a most outstanding term to be used for a new baby.
Adam Pynacker (1622 - 1673) was a Dutch landscape painter, active mainly in Delft and in Amsterdam. Having spent some time in Italy, he was one of the outstanding Dutch exponents of Italianate landscapes. In 1658 he converted to Catholicism in order to marry Eva Maria de Geest, daughter of renowned Dutch painter Wybrand de Geest. Pynacker’s style resembles that of Jan Both and Jan Asselyn, but his mature work often has a distinctive and attractive silvery tonality all his own, perfect for capturing the nocturnal arrival of an angel of the Lord.