Dives and Lazarus | Art for Proper 21

“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31

Dives and Lazarus

BASSANO, Leandro
(b. 1557, Venezia, d. 1622, Venezia)
Dives and Lazarus
c. 1595
Oil on canvas, 100 x 123 cm
Private collectionClick image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Dives and Lazarus, oil on canvas, c.1595, Leandro Bassano, 1557-1622

Dives (Dye-veez) – Latin for “rich” or “rich man” – did not deny himself anything that would bring pleasure. Leandro Bassano depicts him at dinner in fine clothes, surrounded by the people who serve him. He is having a sumptuous meal as he did everyday, and while he is dining, musicians entertain him and a prostitute sits at his side. There is not room on the table for all of the food that is served. In front of Dives are full plates of food piled on top of full plates, and more food is on its way.

In Christ’s parable (Luke 16:19-31), Lazarus is a starving man who is covered with sores. He went to the rich man’s house to lie down by the gate with the hope that something to eat would be given to him. In his painting, Bassano, using artistic license, places Lazarus inside the house and directly at the dinner scene with Dives. Lazarus, on the floor beside the rich man, is looking up and reaching out with an open hand but is being ignored; the table is overflowing with food but not even a morsel is tossed to him. Two playful spaniels have arrived at Lazarus’ feet and are licking his sores while at the same time a servant is threatening to beat him with a stick. Dives had no pity on those in need and lived his life in a heartless and self-indulgent manner. There was no empathy for those who were less fortunate.

Upon death, Lazarus was taken to heaven and the uncaring Dives was sent to hell. When Dives looked across a deep chasm that divided them he saw Lazarus in heaven in Abraham’s bosom. He called to Abraham and pleaded that Lazarus be sent with water on a finger to place on his tongue but his plea was denied. Abraham said, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:25)

The artist Leandro Bassano was the youngest son of a family of artists. His father, Jacopo da Ponte, studied in nearby Venice and then returned to the city of Bassano and, like many other artists, became known by the name of the city where he lived and worked. His four sons worked closely with him and it is believed some of the work attributed to the father, Jacopo, were the work of his sons. Leandro’s work is closest in style to his father’s paintings.

Note:

The story of “Dives and Lazarus” became an old English folk song and the Christmas carol, “Oh Sing a Song of Bethlehem” is sung to its melody. Anglican and Episcopal hymns also have been set to this melody and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ composition for harp and string orchestra – “Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus” – is based on this folk song as well.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Educating the Rich on the Globe | Art for Proper 20

“If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” Luke 16:11-12

Educating the Rich on the Globe

Tom Otterness
 1952-
Educating the Rich on the Globe
1997
Sculpture,freestanding Metal
New YorkClick image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Educating the Rich on the Globe, bronze, 1997, Tom Otterness, 1952-

The excitement of finding, seeing, or experiencing something new or different seems to be built into our makeup as humans. We like to see technological advancements (new cars, airplanes, computers, etc.) and to talk about them as well. The fashion industry is known for its annual changes of colors, materials, and styles. Almost all other commercial areas of our lives also are subject to change; if nothing else, slogans and packaging are changed. In the arts, the avant-garde continues to push boundaries and as in almost every aspect of our culture, the pace of change has accelerated continuously within the past one hundred fifty years.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pop Art with its familiar images from our commercial world (e.g. soup cans, comic strips, and celebrities) re-engaged the public. Pop imagery arrived at a time when large sums of money were being invested in art; individuals with immense wealth, large corporations, and city governments were among the collectors. At a time when the definition of art expanded, and money was available, collectors seemed to be eager to identify with works that were new, thought to be clever, and on the leading edge. City councils found that placement of art on sidewalks, in medians, or in parks promoted a positive image and before long, the imagery of pop culture spilled over into commissions for “Art in Public Places.” Serious art and war memorials were for Washington, DC. Other cities were likely to select work that did not require an emotional involvement or a mental effort from people in passing cars or pedestrians. Humor rather than solemnity tended to be preferred and images were likely to be entertaining and non-controversial. Often this resulted in pseudo-sophisticated works that were hollow in content and only pretended to have deep meaning. Among sculptors who tapped into an opportunity to receive large financial rewards for public sculpture was Tom Otterness.

Otterness’ “Educating the Rich on the Globe” is made in a cartoon balloon-figure Pop Art style. The title would lead one to believe the sculpture deals with the subject of moral responsibility. Instead, it is simply a play on the words of its title – a deliberate misdirection and a strained attempt at humor. At its base, four small people are supporting a globe that is obscured partly by very large pennies. The coins are apparently the artist’s nod to the fictitious surname, “Pennybags.” Uncle Pennybags, the man that is sprawled on his back atop the globe is wearing his usual tuxedo, bow tie and top hat, and will be recognized immediately as the board game figure also known as Mr. Monopoly. He is being straddled by a child that is reading from a very large book. The Globe in the title refers literally to the globe in the sculpture and the Rich is referring to Monopoly’s mascot, “Rich Uncle Pennybags.” In total, “Educating the Rich on the Globe” depicts a child with a book pretending to be Educating a man called Rich who is literally on the Globe. This work begs for a deadpan response.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Parable of the Lost Drachma| Art for Proper 19

Luke 15:8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

Parable of the Lost Drachma

FETTI, Domenico
(b. ca. 1589, Roma, d. 1623, Venezia)
Parable of the Lost Drachma
c. 1618
Oil on wood, 75 x 44 cm
 Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Parable of the Lost Drachma, oil on wood, c. 1618, Domenico Fetti, c. 1589-1623

During the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century, neither a painting’s subject nor its style reflected the physical surroundings and day to day lives of common people. Domestic scenes or work activities were not of interest to wealthy patrons or Church figures who commissioned art; there would be no reflective glory for them from such works. In the sixteenth century, however, artists expanded their range of subjects and explored new visual effects. One outcome was “naturalism.” An artist such as Caravaggio was known to cast a person he met at a tavern in the role of a biblical figure. They were not “cleaned up” for their role. In Northern Italy a trend toward naturalism also emerged and may be seen in Domenico Fetti’s “Parable of the Lost Drachma.”

After studying painting in Rome, Fetti, at the age of twenty-four moved to northern Italy to work at the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. The Duke was a noted collector of art and while in Mantua, Fetti’s work continued to develop. He was influenced by a variety of sources; among them were the naturalism of Caravaggio, the use of warm colors by nearby masters in Venice, and the works of Rubens. While he worked for the Duke, the subjects of his paintings often were parables that took place in domestic scenes. The “Parable of the Lost Drachma” illustrates the story of a poor woman who possessed only ten drachmae (Greek coins of small value used during the time of Christ). When one was lost she was desperate to find it. She lit a lamp, swept and searched the house thoroughly, and was delighted when the coin was found. In her excitement she called together friends and neighbors to share her good news.

Fetti’s painting depicts a small room furnished sparsely. The only light source is the woman’s small oil lamp and all shadows emanate from it. Indications of her poverty can be seen in the loose stone tiles on the floor and a portion of the upper wall that is in need of repair. The scene depicted by Fetti takes place during the process of the woman’s hunt for the small coin. She has looked under a chair in the corner and left it on its side. In the left foreground, a stool has been toppled, indicating she has looked under it as well. She searched under the loose floor stones and looked in her trunk; pieces of cloth were taken out and then left on the floor as she went elsewhere to look. In paintings of this parable by other artists, the woman often is shown sweeping with a broom but Fetti has chosen instead to show us her meager furnishing and the places she has searched.

After nine years in Mantua, Fetti moved to Venice to continue his career. He was an exceptional painter but he died at the age of thirty-four and we do not know what else he might have accomplished.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Potter and Wheel | Art for Proper 18C

Jeremiah 18:2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”

The Potter and Wheel

W. M. Thomson: The Land and the Book; or Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land. Vol. II. New York, 1859, picture p. 282
The Potter and Wheel
Jaffa, Palestine
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Potter and Wheel, Jaffa, Palestine, pen and ink (book illustration), 1859, William Hanna Thomson (19th century)

Clay is abundant. We tend to think of it as being almost worthless and despite the amount that is used (for everything from bricks to dinnerware), the supply is not being depleted. It is formed by the action of the elements as they break down and erode the surface of the earth. In the process, minute particles of decomposed rock and organic matter are moved by water to low lying areas where clay beds are formed. When clay is moist, it has great plasticity; often it can be used just as it is found. A potter wedges the clay – somewhat like kneading dough – to make it even in consistency and then a pot may be hand-built by the coil method, or “thrown” on a wheel.

A potter’s wheel is a simple device. Its top is a flat disc (today wheel heads are made usually from an aluminum alloy) and a shaft connects it to a larger and heavier disc below, a flywheel. The wheel head and flywheel are supported by a frame; attached to it may be a bench for the potter and a table that provides a place for a pail of water, clay, and tools. When making a pot on a wheel, a potter throws a ball of clay onto the wheel head. The hands are lubricated in water and the flywheel is kicked. As the wheel is turning, the hands are braced and placed on the clay to center it; the centered clay then is opened, raised and given form (bottle, bowl, storage vessel, etc). After a pot is trimmed and thoroughly dry (“bone dry”) it is placed in a kiln. The high temperature in a kiln fuses clay particles and hardens the pot.

In 1834, William McClure Thomson went to the Near East as a missionary and after twenty-three years in the Holy Land he wrote: The Land and the Book: Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land. In his book, Thomson wrote about the setting in which Bible stories took place and his son, William Hanna, illustrated the text with over 200 drawings. “The Potter and Wheel” depicts a Palestinian artisan giving final shape to a pot that has been thrown. “Throwing” is a process that has not changed for thousands of years and when Jeremiah went to the potter’s house, as directed by the Lord, the potter at the wheel would have been very much like what Thomson depicts in the nineteenth century illustration above. At the time Jeremiah arrived, a thrown pot was still on the wheel; the potter was reshaping it because it was flawed. For Jeremiah, seeing the potter at the wheel was a graphic demonstration. Just as a potter controls clay, the form of nations is in the Lord’s hands.

Note

Although firing gives clay strength in compression, it is weak in tensile strength; it can break easily. Thus a person who exhibits a flaw in character is said to have, “feet of clay.”

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Pride | Art for Proper 17C

Pride from The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

Pride from The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things
Hieronymus Bosch
around 1500
Oil on wood
120 cm × 150 cm (47 in × 59 in)
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Click image to see entire work.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Pride (Detail from: “The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things”), oil on wood, c. 1500, Hieronymus Bosch, 1450-1516

The list of “Seven Deadly Sins” (pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust) is not biblical in source but instead was written by Evagrius Ponticus at a fourth century Egyptian monastery. It contained eight “sins” originally. “Vainglory” was one of the eight but its meaning overlapped with pride and it was dropped. Also, at one time, the list included “acedia.” meaning listlessness or torpor (a state of being found sometimes in people such as monks who lived a solitary life); it was changed to sloth. Although the term “deadly” seems grim and fatal, St. Gregory the Great noted the items on the list did not in themselves constitute sins. These were, however, behavioral characteristics or vices that could lead to sin. The “Seven Deadly Sins” also are called, “Capital Vices” and “Cardinal Sins.”

While the Renaissance was taking place in Italy, there were still Gothic elements remaining in Northern Europe. Classicism along with its gods and goddesses re-entered the art of Italy but painters in the North tended to be slower to leave themes that focused on morality. Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings included everyday people and often they were satirical and pessimistic; sin and punishment seemed to be his preoccupations. It has been speculated, “The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things,” could have been painted by one of Bosch’s pupils but scholars continue to support the belief that it is from the hand of the master.

The full painting of the “Deadly Sins” is rectangular in shape with a large circle dominating the center. The circle has been divided into seven sections (in the manner of a Lazy Susan) and a “sin” is depicted in each of the sections. The very center of the large circle is believed to represent the eye of God. Within its “pupil,” Christ is emerging from his tomb. Below it (in Latin) is written “Beware, Beware, God Sees” In the four corners are smaller circles where the “Four Last Things” are depicted; “Death of the Sinner,” “Judgment,” “Hell,” and “Glory.”

The scene, “Pride” (Latin: Suberbia), depicts a woman dressed in the typical Dutch fashion of her time. Just after entering a room she is shocked and immobilized when a mirror is thrust before her by a fierce looking demon that emerged abruptly from the shadow of the heavy wooden cupboard. The shock has forced her to look at her life and to become aware of pride.

Although to us it may seem like the woman in the painting is wearing a lampshade on her head, it is in fact a standard gauze headdress in the style of her day. Its back side is flat and does not reveal the interesting and often creative manner in which women’s headdresses were folded and pinned in front.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Prophet Jeremiah | Art for Proper 16C

Prophet Jeremiah

DONATELLO
b. ca. 1386, Firenze, d. 1466, Firenze
Prophet Jeremiah
1423-26
Marble, height 191 cm
 Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Prophet Jeremiah, marble, 1423-26, Donatello, c.1386-1466

In the fifteenth century great changes were underway in Italy and Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi) played a major role in developments that took place in sculpture.  Throughout the Romanesque and Gothic periods, sculpture tended to be an adjunct to architecture; it was stylized and sometimes column-like.  Often it was in the form of important saints and notable church figures lined in rows at the entrances of cathedrals or placed in niches built into interior or exterior walls.  Much of it was in relief and seemed incapable of escaping from a wall or column.  Even when it was free standing (not in relief) it was placed usually in a space that was surrounded closely and it was seldom created to be seen “in the round.”  While liberating sculpture from its subordinate role in architecture, Donatello became the most celebrated sculptor of the Early Renaissance and an influence on almost all sculpture that followed.

At age seventeen Donatello worked with Lorenzo Ghiberti during the time the first set of doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral was being conceived.  After a short time in the studio of Ghiberti, he went to Rome with Filippo Brunelleschi to “treasure hunt.” Their treasure was the information they gleaned from the pieces of sculpture and architecture found among the ruins of Roman buildings.  This visit to Rome affected the future work of both men.  Donatello departed from his early training in stylized late Gothic sculpture and Brunelleschi went on to discover linear perspective and to build the magnificent dome of Florence Cathedral (known as Il Duomo).

In Greek sculpture the gods and goddesses were given idealized proportions; their bodies and faces were not those of real people.  The Romans also made sculpture depicting their gods but they carved portraits of their leaders as well.  These portraits depicted the sitter’s individual characteristics and expressions.  When Donatello left Gothic stylistic elements, he did not follow the Greek model of ideal proportions.  Instead, like Roman portraits, he brought a sense of realism and naturalism into his work.  This naturalism is evidenced in two marble figures in adjacent niches carved for the BellTower (designed by Giotto) of Florence Cathedral.

The two prophets – Jeremiah and a bald figure dubbed “Zuccone” (pumpkin head) and believed to be Habakkuk – each stand with loose informal toga-like wraps hanging from their shoulders.  Both are beardless and, in their characteristics, are like Roman orators; not like Greek gods.  The Zuccone is in a relaxed stance but rather
undignified with parted lips and almost quizzical expression.  Jeremiah is in a similar stance but has a full head of hair and a face that carries a sense of strength.  His firm jaw and tight lips convey seriousness and inner thoughts.  Yet his large eyes seem to express sympathy, gentleness, and perhaps even sorrow.  Donatello portrays Jeremiah as a real person; a human with whom we can identify, not as an impersonal idealized figure or as a bearded old prophet of long ago.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Triumph of Faith| Art for Proper 15C

The Triumph of Faith

VELLERT, Dirck Jacobsz.
(b. ca. 1480, Amsterdam, d. 1547, Antwerpen)
The Triumph of Faith
1517
Grisaille on lightly tinted glass, diameter 22 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Triumph of Faith, grisaille on tinted glass, 1517, Dirck Jacobsz Vellert, c.1480-1547

Dirck Jacobsz Vellert, a major artist of the “Northern Renaissance,” worked in Antwerp but his designs for stained glass were not limited to regional projects; during his career he received widespread recognition. Today, however, many of his pieces are lost and his fame has diminished. “The Triumph of Faith,” was one of Vellert’s six panels based on the poem, Trionfi (Triumphs), by the fourteenth century humanist Francisco Petrarch.

A grisaille (gree-zai) – from “gris,” the French term for “gray” – often resembles a marble bas relief. This type of monochromatic work is painted usually only in gray and white values. Vellert’s grisaille, however, is not a painting; instead it is created in a technique similar to enameling on glass. Vellert began with a tinted glass panel and painted it with oxides. He placed it in a furnace repeatedly to fuse the image as it was being created.

In “The Triumph of Faith,” a crowd is on hand as the four evangelists, filled with faith, begin their journey into the world to preach the gospel. As a backdrop for this allegorical event, God is depicted in the upper middle ground wearing a crown and sitting on a throne-like chariot; the body of Christ is like a limp pieta in his lap. Two youthful angels (one is mostly hidden by God’s right leg), are on the throne with trumpets at their lips and they seem to be offering a send-off fanfare as the evangelists are departing. Matthew, symbolized by a human likeness, is pointing the way. The other three evangelists in symbolic animal form (Mark, a Lion; Luke, an Ox; John, an Eagle), are with him as they go into the world to spread the word of God.

Early Christian artists began using symbols for the four evangelists in the early fifth century. The lion and ox are pictured usually with wings – the eagle did not need wings added – but in “The Triumph of Faith,” Vellert has given wings to only the human symbol for Matthew; not to the lion and ox. The thought behind the symbols for the evangelists are as follows:

Matthew: The Book of Matthew begins with Christ’s human ancestry and in this gospel the human side of Christ’s life is given. Thus, Matthew’s symbol is a human likeness with wings.

Mark: The Gospel of Mark tells the story of the resurrection. Once it was believed a lion was lifeless when it was born; it would be awakened to life by its sire’s tongue and roar. Thus the lion became the symbol for Mark.

Luke: The Gospel of Luke tells of the passion of Christ. An ox was used in sacrificial offerings and by association it became the symbol for Luke.

John: An eagle flies into the heavens. John soared into the heavens in spirit and thus the eagle became his symbol.

Hovak Najarian © 2013