Hagar in the Desert | Art for Proper 7A

Evoking a response to the story

Hagar in the desrt (Lipchitz)

Hagar in the Desert, bronze, 1949, Jacques Lipchitz, 1891-1973

 

So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” … So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. Genesis 21:10, 14

Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was old and childless, so in order for her husband to have an heir she suggested he father a child with their servant, Hagar. A son was born to Hagar and named Ishmael. Several years later, Abraham was visited by three men and told Sarah would have a child. Sarah laughed, she seemed too old to have a child but in time she bore a son, Isaac. Meanwhile, her unhappiness with Hagar and Ishmael increased greatly and she asked Abraham to send them away.

A typical painting of Hagar and Ishmael’s departure shows Abraham pointing as if to say, “Go.” Sarah remains in the background watching. Other paintings depict Hagar and Ishmael in the desert when they were exhausted, without food or water, and near death. Often, the angel that rescued them is included.

While still a youth, Jacques Lipchitz, left his native Lithuania to study in Paris. When he arrived in 1909, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were challenging the concept that a painting must depict a subject as we see it. They came to the conclusion that a painting was an object in itself and it was not required to be like a window through which we see a depiction of a still life or scene. They believed art could refer to a subject – to be a composition about it – not just a depiction. It was realized our experiences provide much more information than can be offered in a painting with a single point of view. Instead of presenting a subject from only one vantage point, Picasso and Braque included sides of objects that were not in their line of sight, yet known to be there. In order to do this, they simplified the subject by focusing on its underlying geometric structure, selecting essential aspects of it, and then reconfiguring it into a composition. A critic dubbed this, Cubism.

Three years after Lipchitz arrived in Paris, he met Picasso and began to explore form in sculpture from a cubist’s perspective. Paris became his home. When in 1941 it was apparent Hitler’s army was going to invade France, Lipchitz, a Jew, left France to live in New York. In America, his sculpture remained abstract but it was no longer in the cubist style. His work became curvilinear and expressionistic.

Lipchitz’s Hagar in the Desert is a dramatic interaction of related shapes, not a literal depiction. The figure of Hagar with Ishmael’s head in her lap and the angel overhead are suggested but they do not follow anatomical proportions and are not arranged in physical order. The subject of this sculpture – Hagar, Ishmael, and the angel – was formed by Lipchitz as a study in solid masses and spatial relationships.

In 1948 and 1949 when Lipchitz created his first two versions of Hagar, he was concerned very much about the conflicts that were set in motion when the new state of Israel was formed. He hoped that peace would prevail. With regard to Hagar in the Desert, Lipchitz said, to him it was, “a prayer for brotherhood between Arabs and the Jews.”

Hovak Najarian © 2017

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Trinity Sunday Year A

Art and Faith on Trinity Sunday

The Creation of Adam

The Creation of Adam (detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling),
fresco, 1508-12, Michelangelo, 1475-1564

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” is a much-quoted statement that sometimes is attributed to Confucius, but this observation is neither completely true nor oriental in origin. The quote originated in America and gained attention from commercial advertising in the 1920s. In some instances a picture or schematic image may be clearer than a complex verbal description, but there are times also when ideas found in words are impossible to illustrate by means of art. The creation story in the Book of Geneses is far less than a thousand words, yet a single painting cannot depict adequately all of the events contained in the narrative.

When artists depict subject matter from the creation, they tend to select the more dramatic events. Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel excludes the third day when grass, herbs and trees were created, and omits the fish and fowl that were created on the fifth day. The frescos begin with God separating light from darkness and is followed by the separation of water from the land. In the third panel God is shown creating the sun, moon and planets. The well-known fourth panel depicts the moment God gave life to Adam.

In, The Creation of Adam, Adam is reclining on the earth in the relaxed manner of Roman river gods. His left forearm is resting on a knee and his hand is extended as God reaches into the empty space that separates them. They do not touch but there is a sense that in the small space between their fingers, the spark of life, like an electrical arc, has been passed from God to Adam.

An oval shaped cloak serves as a backdrop for God and he is surrounded by figures. It is in our nature as humans to make connections and project meaning onto things we see. A long-standing belief is that the woman in the crook of God’s left arm is Eve. Because God’s hand is touching a child that is next to the woman, however, it has been suggested recently that she may be the future Virgin Mary and the child is Jesus.

Much has been written about what Michelangelo was attempting to communicate in this painting and most of it is speculation. When an imaginative medical student saw, The Creation of Adam, the cloak and figures around God, brought to mind the shape of a human brain. From this, he thought it was possible that Michelangelo was intending to indicate symbolically that while life was being given to Adam, the gift of intellect also was being bestowed. This interpretation has captured the fancy of people who look for secret meanings. The suggestion that intellect was being given to Adam is repeated now even by tour guides at the Sistine Chapel. There is no incontrovertible evidence that a cryptic message was placed in this painting.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

Lasers reveal long-hidden Roman frescoes with biblical themes

Technology, art, and faith come together.

Doorway arch fresco depicting Christ and the Apostles at the Domitilla catacombs in Rome. Frescoes dating back to the fourth century A.D. have been restored with laser technology in underground crypts. Photo courtesy of Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology

This was originally posted by Josephine McKenna on June 6, 2017 on the Religion News Service website. Additional images from the catacombs appear in the original post.

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ROME (RNS) Ancient frescoes have been rediscovered inside the 1,600-year-old Domitilla catacombs after Italian art experts used laser technology to remove centuries of grit and grime.

The catacombs, or underground cemeteries, are named after a Roman noble family and are considered the most extensive in the Italian capital, drawing thousands of tourists.

The painstaking seven-year restoration, backed by the Vatican, focused on two burial chambers commissioned by successful bakers working in ancient Rome in the fourth century.

The restoration revealed spectacular frescoes showing how wealthy Roman aristocrats abandoned their pagan mythology to embrace Christianity.

Archaeologist Fabrizio Bisconti, head of the Vatican body responsible for ancient archaeology, said many frescoes had been discovered in Rome’s catacombs over the past 25 years.

But he said the latest revelation is significant, as the rooms had been completely covered in a black patina and graffiti.

“With the use of laser, the decorative work of the two chambers is shown in all its splendor, offering us a real discovery, even though the two chambers have been known about for many centuries,” he said.

The Domitilla catacombs are close to the ancient Appian Way and contain an underground basilica and four levels of corridors, chambers and crypts where 150,000 Christians and martyrs were buried. They span more than 10 miles.

The frescoes that were brought to light had been hidden under layers of dirt, algae and smoke left behind by oil lamps.

Using lasers, restorers discovered frescoes of pagan figures as well as biblical figures such as Moses and Noah on the chambers’ surface.

One ceiling fresco features an image of Jesus on a throne and two men, believed to be saints or Christian martyrs, seated beside him.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, said the catacombs were a reminder of “the passage of conversion to the new faith” and the importance of Domitilla as a Christian burial site.

“Between the third and fourth centuries they welcomed both the common faithful and the martyrs,” Ravasi said in a statement.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, many of the catacombs were forgotten and later raided for their art treasures. They were rediscovered in the 16th century by Antonio Bosio, an archaeologist who loved to leave his name scribbled on the frescoes in charcoal.

A new museum featuring sarcophagi, busts and epitaphs is expected to open at the catacombs this month.

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More images: Lasers reveal long-hidden Roman frescoes with biblical themes

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

 

“He ascended into heaven…”

Visualizing the Ascension of Jesus.

While Jesus was going and [the apostles] were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:10-11 NRSV

Master of the Rabbula Gospels, The Ascension, 586

The Ascension of Christ, illumination on parchment, 6th century,
Master of the Rabbula Gospels.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

During the sixth century, artists were approximately eight hundred years away from being able to create pictorial depth through linear perspective. In addition to technical limitations, artists faced decisions about how Jesus would be depicted and how angels would fly. How would a person’s inner light be represented? Creating a composition required decisions as well; how was it to be organized?

Pictorial depth in, The Ascension of Christ, an illuminated Syriac Gospel Book, is limited. The figures are standing at ground level like relief sculpture and the composition is balanced in bilateral symmetry. The right and left side of the painting balance each other equally and Mary with a halo and blue robe is at the center. Her arms are uplifted in prayer. Byzantine royalty often wore blue robes and by the sixth century, the color blue, representing heavenly grace among other symbolic associations, had been adopted as the color by which Mary, “Queen of Heaven,” would be identified. Uplifted arms while in prayer was a gesture used by early Christians and continues today in some Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Except for the angels and Mary, most of the figures are looking upward at Jesus.

As Christ was ascending, two men in white robes appeared. Each is depicted as an angel with wings and a halo. Angels in the Bible were not assigned wings but artists reasoned they would need them in order to fly. The angel on the left of Mary is looking at Paul (identified by a long dark beard and bald forehead) and is pointing upward at the ascending Jesus. Paul was not a follower of Jesus at the time of the ascension but was brought in by way of, “artist’s license.” The angel on the right is talking to the white-bearded Peter. They, and the others, are being told Jesus “…will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

In the sixth century, Christ’s ascension was depicted in various ways; one was not to have his body in the picture at all. Only his feet and the hem of his robe would be shown as he entered clouds above. Sometimes only his feet remained in the picture. In another approach, Jesus would move upward by climbing a mountain.

In his journey heavenward, Jesus is surrounded usually by a glowing light or is encompassed, as here, by a full body halo known as a mandorla. In the above depiction, two angels are holding the mandorla to assist Jesus in his ascent while two other angels are moving upward bearing crowns. Jesus is standing within the mandorla with his hand raised in a final blessing to those who have gathered below. The biblical account of Ezekiel ascending to heaven on a chariot was familiar to people at this time and, as seen here, a depiction of the ascension in early Christian art often included chariot wheels beneath the mandorla.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son!

The changeless Name of Love.

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. 1 Peter 3:13-15 NRSV

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed! (Hymn 616 in Hymnal 1982)

In Sunday’s Epistle (5/21/17), Peter writes that it is noble “to suffer for doing good.” At St. Hugh’s we were emboldened to go out as those protected by the One who “comes with succor speedy to those who suffer wrong” (s. 2)—for “O’er every foe victorious …his Name shall stand for ever, his changeless Name of Love.” We seek to always dwell in that Love.

1
Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed, his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
to take away transgression, and rule in equity.

2
He comes with succor speedy to those who suffer wrong,
to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying, were precious in his sight.

3
He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth,
and love, joy, hope, like flowers, spring in his path to birth:
before him on the mountains shall peace, the herald, go;
and righteousness in fountains from hill to valley flow.

4
Kings shall bown before him, and gold and incense bring;
all nations shall adore him, his praise all people sing;
to him shall prayer unceasing and daily vows ascend;
his kingdom still increasing, a kingdom without end.

5
O’er every foe victorious, he on his throne shall rest;
from age to age more glorious, all-blessing and all-blest:
the tide of time shall never his covenant remove;
his Name shall stand for ever, his changeless Name of Love.

James Montgomery

Supper at Emmaus | Art for Easter 3A

In the breaking of the bread … recognition

When [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  (Luke 24:30-31)

Supper at Emmaus, 1628, oil on canvas, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

When Christ was crucified, the disciple’s world was shattered and their future uncertain. Where would they go? What would they do? Two of them were on the road to Emmaus, a village near Jerusalem, and as they walked, their conversation was about Jesus and the harrowing events of the previous week. What were they to make of news received from the women who went to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty? The women said angels told them Jesus was alive. While the disciples were walking, the resurrected Jesus joined them on their journey. They were unable to recognize him, however, and when this stranger (Jesus) asked what they had been discussing, they became still. Their heads were downcast. The disciple, Cleopas, asked incredulously, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened…?” When asked, “What things?” Cleopas, recounted the ministry of Jesus the Messiah and how he was sentenced to death and crucified.

As the travelers approached the village of Emmaus, it was near evening and the disciples invited the man accompanying them to stay instead of continuing on his journey. Jesus stayed, and when they were ready to eat, he gave thanks for the bread and broke it. As bread was given to the disciples, they were shocked when they realized suddenly the man they met on the road, and now was in their presence, was Jesus. After Jesus revealed himself, he disappeared.

As a youth, Rembrandt’s schooling was in Latin and Religion and in addition to his skills in art, he developed a deep interest in the Bible. In his drawings, paintings, and etchings, he returned to biblical themes throughout his life. Rembrandt was still a young man when he painted the Supper at Emmaus, and it is a subject he returned to later. His earlier painting, shown here, depicts the exact moment Christ revealed himself to the two disciples.

The light source in a painting establishes highlights, shadows, reflections, and it gives definition to three dimensional forms. Often the light is provided by a candle, lamp, or window, and at times more than one source is included. In addition to natural and artificial sources, light emanating from Jesus has been depicted in paintings since the early Renaissance. In Rembrandt’s Supper at Emmaus, the primary source of light comes from Jesus and much of the painting is in shadow. In the background is a dim light surrounding a servant who is unaware that Christ has revealed himself to the disciples.

Upon realizing they had been walking with Jesus on their journey, and that he was now with them at the table, the two disciples were overcome. One disciple fell to his knees at Jesus’ feet. [He is in deep shadow in the central foreground.] The disciple seated across from Jesus is recoiling in awe and is overwhelmed. Perhaps fright is being experienced as well. Rembrandt made dramatic use of light and dark tones to suggest something extraordinary was taking place.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

Image on the Web Gallery of Art

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Christ is our light.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.
Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light
is found in all that is good and right and true.
Ephesians 5:8-9

Interior view. Christ the Light Cathedral. Oakland, CA

Interior view of Christ the Light Cathedral in Oakland, CA

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When Christ was transfigured, appearing in radiant glory with Moses and Elijah, the disciples wanted to build booths for them. When we build churches today, such as the strikingly transcendent interior of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, are we trying to “build a booth” to contain God? Or are we transformed ourselves when worshiping in a church of great beauty?

The Cathedral, located on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland, is designed with the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ at its core. The 58-foot high image within the Omega window (pictured here) is created by natural light passing through aluminum panels that have been pierced with 94,000 holes. This image is a depiction of Christ in Majesty, borrowed from the sculpture of Christ in the central doorway of the west entrance to Chartres Cathedral in France. The use of natural light in the Oakland Cathedral symbolizes the movement of salvation history, climaxing with the tangible, powerful, presence of Christ.[1] As the sun moves across the sky, the movement of light transforms the worship space.

The intentional design of this sanctuary, active in its beauty and its theological meaning, reveals the reciprocal exchange of love between God and humanity. As humans, we offer our humble devotion, and God’s presence is strongly felt. In a place of such beauty, natural and human-made, there are possibilities of transformation — transformation and devotion are brought to life in an exchange of heavenly and earthly love.

[1] Adult Formation Committee, Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Source: Art in the Christian Tradition (Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Library of Congress