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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Art and Jesus--His Ministry

The Good Shepherd, Medieval mosaic
Christus Imperator
For centuries in the past, and even today, in the world of Christian art, the greatest influence derives from the Catholic church. Thus from ancient times to the present, such art reflects Catholic dogma and tradition. Virtually all early images of Christ's baptism show him being sprinkled. In marking the beginning of Jesus' ministry, modern day depictions such as this by Harry Anderson are much more scripturally accurate.

The Good Shepherd 1650-60
Philippe de Champaigne

Good Shepherd, Del Parson
The earliest images of Christ reflect two themes, Christ the King (right) and Christ the Good Shepherd (top). The first is harsh, cold, and burdened with old testament symbolism. The latter, even in such formal mosaic displays, manages to tend toward the warm and loving. Philippe de Champaigne's Good Shepherd (left), dating from around 1655, is roughly one thousand years removed from the Good Shepherd mosaic while (top) while Del Parson's Good Shepherd (above, right) is yet another 300 years beyond that, illustrating not just an evolution of style but of concept as well. The Parson work, dating from the 1950s seems much more loving and intimate. The same feeling is evoked in Greg Olson's Forever and Ever (below) in which a child replaces the symbolic lamb.

 Forever and Ever, Greg Olsen

Calling of the Fishermen, Harry Anderson
Quite apart from images of Jesus laden with symbolism, most of the images depicting His ministry are quite literal, some bordering on "Sunday School Illustrations." Here we can compare Anderson's modern day Calling of the Fishermen (above) to Tintoretto's Christ on the Sea of Galilee  (below)from the early 1600s. Though they depict different events, the differences as well as the similarities are striking.
Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1580, Tintoretto
Return of the Prodigal Son, 1669,
Likewise, Christ's ministry was so powerful that even his parables have come to be seen by artists as worthy subjects as in Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son. In fact, there are few, if any, incidents from Christ's ministry that have NOT been painted by artists such as Magnasco's Christ and the Samaritan Woman and Veronese's Feast at the House of Levi, which was originally intended by the artist to depict a last supper but was so opulent and laden with secular content as to raise the ire of the church, forcing the artist to re-title the work.
Knocking at the Door,
Warner Sallman
Even when Christ was speaking figuratively, artist such as Warner Sallman have taken him literally as with his beloved painting, Knocking at the Door (left). The Italian artist, Perugino, in decorating a side wall of the Sistine Chapel, also chose to take the figurative language of Christ literally in his Keys to the Kingdom (directly below), an important Catholic theological cornerstone as seen in this depiction of Christ passing the "keys to the kingdom" to St. Peter. Simon Dewey chose to depict Christ's lesson in service and humility (further below) as he washed the feet of the apostles, an actual event both figurative and literal.

Keys to the Kingdom, 1481-82, Perugino

In Humility, Simon Dewey

Transfiguration, 1800s, Carl Bloch
Transfiguration, 1518-20, Raphael
However,  with such a rich treasure of dramatic events as represented by the life of Jesus Christ, most artists have chosen the dramatic over the mundane, such as the Transfiguration (above, left), here by Carl Bloch. He, in turn, seems to have been inspired by no less an artist than Raphael (above, right), who so heavily populated his depiction that it's often mistaken for an ascension. The American artist, Harry Anderson, chose the dramatic triumphal entry into Jerusalem, marking the beginning of what is undoubtedly the most dramatic series of events in Christ's ministry--his final hours.

Jesus' Triumphal Entry, Harry Anderson

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