Art for Lent 1A

A look at Genesis Chapter 3 in bronze.

God accuses Adam and Eve,
[Panel from the Doors of St. Michael’s Cathedral, Hildesheim, Germany],
bronze, 1015. Commissioned by Bishop Bernward, c. 960 – 1022.
Expulsion from the Garden
[Panel from the Doors of St. Michael’s Cathedral, Hildesheim, Germany],
bronze, 1015. Commissioned by Bishop Bernward, c. 960 – 1022.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And then the Lord commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Often in the past, the period after the fall of the Roman Empire was referred to as the “Dark Ages.” This assessment was based on a mistaken belief that without a central government, civilization was at a standstill. After the fall, there was a period of uncertainty initially, nevertheless, monasteries continued to function as centers of learning. When Charlemagne became king of the Franks, he initiated a cultural revival that was continued after he unified Europe and formed the Holy Roman Empire in AD 800. Two centuries later, the spirit of the Carolingian Renaissance remained a presence in Europe. When Otto III went to Rome in AD 996 to be crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim was there and attended the coronation. While in Rome, Bernward was impressed with several large doors that he saw on churches, and upon his return to Hildesheim, he commissioned doors for St. Michael’s Cathedral.

The fourth panel from the top of the left door is a depiction of God arriving to accuse Adam and Eve of eating the forbidden fruit, prior to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Panel 5 on the left side of the door) after they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The forward-leaning figure of God seems angry as He points to Adam and accuses him of disobeying God. In a familiar human reaction, both Adam and Eve try to shift the blame. Adam is embarrassed, is feeling guilt, and senses that he is without clothes. He tries to cover himself and points to Eve in an effort to blame her. Eve, in turn, tries to cover herself and points to the serpent to blame it.

Instead of casting separate panels for each scene, Bishop Bernward’s artists chose to cast each door as one unified piece. First, relief figures of each panel – eight on each door – were created in wax. Sprues of wax were added; after burnout they would serve as funnels into which the molten bronze would be poured. Also wax rods were attached; they would become vents through which gases would escape when the piece was being cast. After the wax pattern – with sprues and vents attached – was completed, foundry workers encased it in a plaster-like substance called investment and placed it in a furnace where the wax was melted and burned out completely (hence the term, “lost wax process”). This burnout created a clean hollow space into which molten bronze was poured to replace everything that was at one time, wax. When the bronze was cool, the investment was chipped off to reveal the doors. Sprues and vents were removed and the doors of St. Michael’s were cleaned and installed.

The panels on the left door depict images from the Book of Genesis and the panels on the right show events from the life of Christ.

The figures in these doors are not anatomically correct and the perspective is not accurate yet, the images are direct and intense. It was not until the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century that perspective and foreshortening became known. The figures on the doors at Hildesheim are primitive by Renaissance standards, yet they are expressive and filled with emotional depth.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

An informative look at the bronze doors, Saint Michael’s, Hildesheim:

Last Sunday After Epiphany

Every year, the Last Sunday After Epiphany is also the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Glory and the Cross for our contemplation.

Transfiguration, fresco, 11th Century, unknown artist of Cappadocia

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” (Matt. 17:1-3)

When the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed the eastern portion thrived and in time became the Byzantine Empire which extended eastward from Constantinople into Asia Minor. In a region known as Cappadocia, Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians often required protection from invaders and found it in rock formations created by volcanic eruptions. By carving into the soft rock, Christians created spaces that gave them shelter from the elements and made invasions by outside forces difficult.

In this setting, a monastic compound known as the “Dark Church,” was carved and its interior walls and ceilings were covered with frescos. Among the paintings is The Transfiguration. In it, Moses and Elijah are with Jesus in an event interpreted as a revelation that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and prophets. Moses represents the law and in paintings he often is shown holding the Torah or a stone tablet. Elijah represents the prophets. In this fresco, neither Moses nor Elijah has been given an identifying symbol but we can assume the gray-haired bearded man on the right is Moses and the un-bearded figure on the left is Elijah.

Mt. Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration but other places have been proposed. One of the sites that have been suggested is Mt. Hermon which has three distinct peaks. Often in paintings of the transfiguration, as in this painting from the Dark Church, three peaks are shown. In this painting,, Christ is standing on the center peak. Moses is standing on the right peak and Elijah is on the left. Below them are the disciples kneeling and crouching. At the bottom left is Peter with white hair and a beard. He is pointing upward toward Christ. The disciple John is depicted in the center as a beardless youth (his face is partially obscured by damage) and James is to the right with brown hair and a beard. Linear rays indicate there is a direct connection between Jesus and each of the disciples.

Note: The “Dark Church” is so named because it has only a small opening (oculus) for light, thus the interior is dim.

Dark Church is at the left side of photo.

Among the various people of ancient Cappadocia were the Armenians who were known then as being horse breeders. “Cappadocia,” the historic name for this region is believed to have been derived from “Kapatuka,” an Old Persian term meaning, “Land of beautiful horses.” The Crusaders referred to the region as Terra Hermeniorum: “Land of the Armenians.”

According to tradition, Byzas, a Greek colonist founded the ancient city, Byzantium, in BC 667. Later, Byzantium, along with eastward lands became part of the Roman Empire. In AD 330, when Constantine moved the capital of Rome to Byzantium, the city’s name was changed to Constantinople. After the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, its name was changed to Istambol (Turkish: “City of Islam”), and in 1930 it was changed again and is now, Istanbul.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Angel of Death and the First Passover | Art for Proper 18A

The Angel of Death and the First Passover, was one of four hundred illustrations in Charles Foster’s book, Bible Pictures, and What They Teach Us (1914)

The Angel of Death and the First Passover

The Angel of Death and the First Passover,
engraving, c. 1897, C. Schonhew, 19th century

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

When the time came for the Israelites to leave Egypt and be free from slavery, Moses and Aaron were told about the Passover. God gave them specific instructions with regard to what the people of Israel were to do. A lamb was to be killed, prepared, and then eaten. Blood from the lamb was to be placed on the lintel and door posts of each home. If doors were not marked, the firstborn child and animal of the home would be struck down. C. Schonhew’s engraving depicts the angel of death casting an ominous shadow as it glances at a door to see if it has been marked. Within the home, a Hebrew family is preparing to partake of the Passover meal.

In this engraving, we are attracted first to the activity of an angel patterned after a classical goddess. If she were without wings, had a bow and quiver, and in a wooded area, she could pass easily for the Roman goddess, Diana. To the left, a sphinx seems to be observing the angel as it passes by with sword in hand. The dead figure near its base indicates the person’s doorway was not marked. In addition to the sphinx, references to Egypt are in the background. An obelisk and a wall with marks suggesting hieroglyphics inform us of the culture in which the Passover took place. The tip of a pyramid is beyond the wall.

To the right of the angel is a less active scene. Through an arched opening we see a family gathered solemnly around a table. A tray with a roasted lamb is in the center and the head of the family is leading them in their first Passover meal. They seem to be unaware that the angel of death is passing by their home at the very moment. In order to present separate activities simultaneously, Schonhew divided the engraving into two contrasting areas. On the left, the angel is in motion. There is a sense of urgency about her movements and she is surrounded by dramatic lighting. In contrast, figures on the right are standing still with heads bowed.

The architecture of the interior is in keeping with the exterior but in order to present a direct view of the family, Schonhew departed from two point perspective by aligning the arched wall with the picture plane. This frames the scene and separates it to focus attention on the family. At first glance it may seem we are viewing the interior through a “picture window” but plate glass was not available until the seventeenth century. During the time of Moses, windows would have been simple openings in the wall with no glass.

Note: The Angel of Death and the First Passover, was one of four hundred illustrations in Charles Foster’s book, Bible Pictures, and What They Teach Us (1914). Many of the artists responsible for the work published in Foster’s book were not identified. Schonhew’s name is known only because he signed the above work. Efforts to locate biographical information about Schonhew have not been successful.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

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

David Playing the Harp before Saul, 1530, Engraving, Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533). In a note attached to this post, Hovak describes the process of engraving.

15A: Christ and the Canaanite Woman

Art for Proper 15A in the RCL

Christ and the Canaanite Woman by Rembrandt

Begin quote

Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn, began his career in Amsterdam where a large merchant class appreciated art and had the means to support it.  He gained early success but money management was not a priority with him and during the latter years of his life he struggled financially.  He continued to work steadfastly, however, and produced art of the highest order.

The biblical setting for the drawingChrist and the Canaanite Woman, is in the region of Tyre and Sidon; two ancient cities of Canaan on the Mediterranean Sea.  When Christ was there he was approached by a woman of Syrophoenician origin (far left in the drawing) who begged him to heal her daughter.  It was suggested by the disciples that she be turned away but Christ made it known that his ministry was for everyone and the woman was granted her request.

Read the entire post here: 15A: Christ and the Canaanite Woman – St. Margaret’s News

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

 

Moses

More than one way to view Moses with horns.

Moses by Michaelangelo

Moses, marble, c. 1513-1515, Michelangelo, 1475-1564

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

After Moses talked with God on Mt. Sinai, he returned to his people but was not aware that his face was glowing. Because of his radiance, people were reluctant to approach him, but when he called they came closer to hear what the Lord had commanded. Moses placed a veil on his face but removed it while in the presence of God. The veil was placed on his face again when he returned to the Israelites.

While he was still a young man, Michelangelo’s stone carving skills were recognized and he was invited to study at the Medici workshop in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Commissions followed and at age twenty-four, the well-known Pieta (now in St. Peter’s Basilica) was carved. His next major commission would be a statue of David for the City of Florence.

Pope Julius II was impressed with David and invited Michelangelo to Rome to design what would be, in effect, a grandiose monument, a tomb that he envisioned for himself. After Michelangelo began carving figures for the tomb, he was not pleased when he was redirected to paint frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was working again on the tomb when Julius II died (a year after the ceiling was completed). By then funds had depleted and the size of the tomb was scaled back. It was during this period that the Moses was carved.

Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo’s biographer, described the sculpture of Moses to be “…unequalled by any modern or ancient work. Seated in a serious attitude, he rests with one arm on the tablets, and with the other holds his long glossy beard, so difficult to render in sculpture, being soft … that it seems the iron chisel must have become a brush.” Although Michelangelo’s Moses displays remarkable carving skills, is engaging in its formal relationships, and is of psychological interest, tourists tend to be unduly preoccupied with the horns on his head.

Errors sometimes occur when languages are translated, and at times they lead to unusual descriptions (e.g. Cinderella’s “glass” slippers). In the fourth century, Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew to Latin, and found that the word, keren had various meanings. One meaning was, “horn.” In translation, Jerome described Moses’ face as being, “horned,” which was to say it was “glorified” or “radiant.” At the time of translation, Jerome was well aware of the multiple meanings of, keren, but elected to use “horn” as a metaphor for strength and power. Medieval artists took the words of the Latin Bible literally and depicted Moses with actual horns. Michelangelo knew, of course, that Jerome’s use of “horned” had been misinterpreted but he chose, nevertheless, to place horns on Moses’ head to impart a sense of strength and authority. Other historical figures have been given horns to suggest strength. Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun have been depicted with horns, and images of warriors with horned helmets are very familiar to us.

Depictions of a “horned” Moses decreased during the Renaissance and was seldom seen beyond the sixteenth century.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

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

Image: Pvasiliadis at Greek Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

The Man with a Hoe

Matthew 13:1-9. Pause. Look. Listen. Let the parable take you where it will.

Millet,_Jean-François_-_Man_with_a_Hoe_-_Google_Art_Project

As the Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church prepares to meet, Hovak Najarian and Kathleen Kelly shared observations, poetry, and questions to lead into the Gospel parable (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) and to inspire your learning.

From Hovak:

Sunday’s Gospel gives us the parable of the sower and Jean Francois Millet’s painting,The Sower, came to mind immediately.  This popular painting has been reproduced many times and it is likely you are familiar with it.  [it is available on T-shirts.]  There is a great deal that could be written about Millet’s Sower, but the focus of Christ’s parable was on what happens when seeds fall onto various surfaces … the message is not about the sower himself.

From, The Sower, my mind shifted to Millet’s, The Man With The Hoe, and a poem by Edwin Markham.  Instead of writing a commentary this week, I would like to share this painting and poem with you.  It is not related to either of the readings for Sunday but the painting is worth seeing and the poem worth reading.

From Kathleen:
In one sense, it could be said that the parable IS about the sower —  a farmer who is willing to “squander” seed by tossing it in all directions  (without regard for the conditions) as though there is no limit to the abundance of this resource.

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

Image: Jean-François Millet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (Link)

Rebekah watering the camels

A discussion snippet: art and the meeting of Eliezer and Rebecca.

Rebekah watering the camels.

In the Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, a discussion arose about the Poussin art (see our post) depicting the encounter of Eliezer and Rebecca at the well (see Genesis Genesis 24). Hovak Najarian later sent this note to the group:

Camels were not to be seen In the painting discussed at the Forum last Sunday.  “Those bizarre objects” (camels) had no place in the ordered classical setting of Poussin’s, Eliezer and Rebecca.
I thought you might enjoy seeing another artist’s depiction of Rebecca at the well.  The artist of the attached painting did not shun camels!  I could not find the name of the artist….
Do you know the name of the artist? Let us know.

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