Parable of the Unjust Judge | Art for Proper 24

Luke 18:2 “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

Illustration of the Parable of the Unjust Judge
John Everett Millais
Illustration of the Parable of the Unjust Judge from the New Testament Gospel of Luke (Luke 18:1-9)
The Parables of Our Lord (1863) Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Parable of the Unjust Judge, wood engraving, 1863, John Everett Millais, 1829-1896

In France – from the latter part of the eighteenth to beyond mid-nineteenth century – Neoclassicism was the style of art perpetuated by the state sponsored French Academy and its influence was widespread. Romanticism rose in opposition to it and had far reaching influence as well. England, however, tended to be independent and had its prestigious Royal Academy of Art; it was not easily swayed by outside styles.

Instead of falling in line with accepted mid-nineteenth century academic styles, seven young English painters of similar interests – led by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – organized a secret society and called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was their belief that false ideals had artificiality entered art during the Renaissance. As the term, “Pre-Raphaelite” implies, they proposed starting anew by going back to a time before Raphael – to the Middle Ages. One of Millais’s paintings from this period, “Christ at the Home of His Parents,” caused a scandal because the Holy Family was not represented regally as it would have been in a classical Renaissance painting. Instead, Millais depicted a working class family with Christ (as a boy) in his father’s messy carpentry workshop. After his youthful efforts, Millais withdrew from the brotherhood and became an academic painter; his critics accused him of “selling out” for financial gain. In time, he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Art and later became its president.

Among Millais’ noted works was a series of drawings illustrating Christ’s parables. These drawings were reproduced as wood engravings by the acclaimed Dalziel brothers and published in 1864 as “Parables of our Lord.” Although some parables are difficult to translate into pictorial form, Millais’ “Parable of the Unjust Judge” is what we might imagine the scene to have been like. In this story, a poor widow desires justice but the judge hearing her case is not sympathetic or compassionate. Millais has placed the widow on the floor in front of the judge (seated with ankles crossed) on his cushioned, throne-like chair; an attendant stands by with a fan to contribute to his comfort. The widow is persistent as she leans forward over the judge’s legs and pleads with him while a guard with an arm on either side of the woman is trying to restrain her. The judge seems to regard her as a pest – he turns his face with a look of superior disdain and keeps her at bay with his right arm. His open left hand is in front of his face in a gesture that seems to be saying, “Enough already!” The man peering over the chair and the man standing at the judge’s immediate right are finding the widow’s appeal to be amusing. The scribe, however, seems sympathetic as he lifts his pen momentarily and looks up at the widow. The widow’s persistence paid off and her petition was granted.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

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