Parable of the Faithful Steward | Art for Proper 14C

Art to illustrate the parable of Jesus found in Luke 12:35-37

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

As Jesus talked to his disciples, he spoke about values and how their lives should be conducted.  They were told to sell their possessions and instead, lay-up treasures in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  It is here that we have Jesus’ much-quoted statement, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus continued with a parable about waiting, watching, and being both patient and prepared.  [This is known as the Parable of the Faithful Servant or Parable of the Door Keeper.]  “Be prepared for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those…whom the master finds alert when he comes.”  Jesus ends the parable with, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”   

When Peter asked, “Lord are you telling this parable to us, or to everybody?”  Jesus continued with the need for responsibility and ended with another much-quoted statement, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required, and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”  This message was spoken to the disciples but also is a lesson for everyone in leadership roles.  It has been interpreted as being applicable particularly to religious leaders.

Dutch artist, Jan Luyken (also spelled, Luiken) was of the generation of artists that followed Rembrandt.  Early in his career, he became attracted to etching and engraving, and the making of prints occupied him throughout his life.  He wrote poetry as well and often they were published with his prints.  Among Luyken’s publications was Martyrs Mirror which included 104 engravings depicting religious persecution.  He was well aware of persecution even in his own time.  At the age of twenty-six, he had an “awakening” experience and accepted Anabaptist teachings.  Ana Baptists were regarded to be a threat to Catholics as well as Protestants and they were persecuted by both,

In Luyken’s The Faithful and Wise Steward, the master of the house – who was away attending a wedding banquet – has just arrived home by horseback.  Through the doorway,T a servant is seen tending the horse and the master is being greeted with a warm welcome as he comes through the door.  The steward gestures toward the other servants who are seated and standing around a dinner table awaiting their master’s return. The master is pleased as he smiles and places a hand on the shoulder of the steward who greeted him.   

Two dogs add a symbolic note to this etching.  Dogs have long been a symbol of loyal devotion and love.  Their presence gives a sense of warmth to the scene and re-enforces the theme of the parable.  The dog in the doorway seems happy to see his master again while the other one has found something to sniff.

Hovak Najarian © 2019

Image: Parable of the Faithful Steward on Wikipedia

Jesus calling Zacchaeus | Art for Proper 26C

Luke 19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

 

2016-1030-prop-26c-jesus-zacchaeus

Jesus Calling Zacchaeus
a woodcut made by and unknown artist

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

In the early 1450s, Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, developed a successful printing press with moveable type. The technology spread rapidly and within a few decades Gutenberg’s invention was being used at other cities in Europe. In Ulm, (about 135 miles from Mainz), Johann Zainer set up a press to publish both sacred and secular books. Among them was, The Spiritual Interpretation of the Life of Christ, c. 1485.

With the invention of moveable type, it was no longer necessary to hand-letter a text but readers of the day were accustomed to seeing illustrations in a book. Publishers met this expectation with woodcuts. An image, carved in relief on a block of wood and set in place, could be inked and printed together with the text. The time of hand-painted illustrations, as in a codex, had passed. For special editions, however, woodcuts often were colored by hand after being printed.

Included in Zainer’s illustrated book about Christ’s life is, Jesus Calling Zacchaeus. It is a composition that may have been based on a contour drawing made originally as a study for stained glass. This image depicts an occurrence at the time Jesus was passing through Jericho while on his way to Jerusalem. Because of the crowd, Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector and a man of short stature, was unable to see Jesus. In order to have a higher vantage point he climbed a nearby sycamore tree. Jesus saw Zacchaeus and spoke to him by name.

In this woodcut, Christ is the central figure and is greater in size in keeping with the practice of depicting important people to be larger than others in a composition. Two people follow Jesus but the crowd that is noted in the Bible, is not shown. Instead, attention is on Jesus at the moment he arrives at the tree where Zacchaeus is perched. One of the figures behind Jesus spots Zacchaeus and turns to a person next to him and points, perhaps saying, “Look, there is a man in that tree!” Jesus’ left hand is raised to greet Zacchaeus, while his right hand motions for him to come down. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately,” Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus to his home but the crowd was dismayed that Christ would choose to stay with a tax collector.

While with Jesus, Zacchaeus was repentant and offered to give half his possessions to the poor. If he had cheated anyone, he said, he would repay them four times the amount. Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house…”

Note: The sycamore tree mentioned in the Bible is related botanically to fig trees. It is not of the same specie as the familiar sycamore in America or the maple-related tree in England. This tree, often called, “sycamore fig,” has edible fruit and has been cultivated in the Holy Land since ancient times. The above woodcut is unusual in that clusters of figs have been included among the leaves of the tree.

Hovak Najarian © 2016

 

The Pharisee and the Publican | Art for Proper 25C

Luke 18:13 “…the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'”

The Pharisee and the Publican, wood engraving, 1864, John Everett Millais, 1829 – 1896
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In mid nineteenth century France, Neoclassicism continued to be the style taught in academies, and Romanticism was receiving a great deal of attention. Realism (paintings of everyday activities of common folks) also had followers, and other artists were painting landscapes in the open air. To varying degrees, English artists were influenced by these styles but they tended to remain independent.

Three young English artists – John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – were not enamored with French styles or with contemporary painting in England. They also were not pleased with the direction art had taken in the centuries following the Renaissance. In 1848, they formed a brotherhood and called themselves, “Pre-Raphaelites.” Other artists joined them. As a group, they found inspiration in nature and in the art of the middle ages – a time before the painter Raphael and the Renaissance – hence the name, “Pre-Raphaelites.”

Within a few years, Millais’ outlook expanded and he moved away from Pre-Raphaelite principles. He did, however, continue his interest in the spiritual aspects of art. Among his many works are drawings that illustrate parables found in the Bible; these were reproduced as wood engravings by the noted Dalziel Brothers and published in 1864 under the title, “The Parables of Our Lord.” The Pharisee and the Publican is an illustration from this book.

In a typical illustration of this parable, the Pharisee is at a temple, standing in the foreground with arms raised pretentiously in prayer. The publican is often on his knees in the background. In Millais’ composition, the positions have been reversed and the contrast between the two is made even greater by the use of light and shadow. The tax collector is standing in the dark area of the foreground and is the immediate focus of our attention. It is the Pharisee who is now in the background. He and the other men are secondary figures and light in value.

There are differences in body language as well. The publican’s weight is on one leg as he slumps over and leans against a Solomon’s column for support. There is a sense that his mind in burdened and even the twist of the column suggests swirling thoughts. His hands are “beating his breast” and his head is downcast as he is saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” By contrast, the self-satisfied Pharisee is standing among other worshipers and is leaning back in pride. His chin is thrust forward as he strokes his beard.

Note: “Solomon’s column,” is one of the terms given to pillars that have a corkscrew-like shaft. Constantine brought a set of these columns to Rome (for St. Peter’s Basilica) and it was said they were from Solomon’s Temple. This source is unlikely but the descriptive term, “Solomon’s column,” continues to be used.

Hovak Najarian © 2016

The Triumph of Faith | Art for Proper 15C

The four evangelists, filled with faith, begin their journey into the world to preach the gospel.

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
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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

Praying Saviour | Art for Proper 12C

Praying Saviour
CSONTVÁRY KOSZTKA, Tivadar
Praying Saviour
1903
Oil on canvas, 100 x 82 cm
 Janus Pannonius Múzeum, Pécs
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Praying Saviour, oil on canvas, 1903, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, 1853-1919

During the lifetime of Hungarian artist, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, great changes were taking place in European art. During the first two-thirds of his life – a time when he was not painting at all – the Impressionists and Post-impressionists in France already had changed conventional thinking about art and were opening the way for developments that would take place during the twentieth century. Csontváry, as he was known in Hungary, was forty-one years old at the time he began studying art and his major works were not painted until after the turn of the century. By this time, Les Fauves (“The Wild Beasts”) in Paris were revolutionizing the way color was being used and shortly after that the Cubists would be challenging the concept of pictorial space. Instead of following areas being explored by the avant-garde however, Csontváry, after a brief time in Paris, chose to follow his personal vision. The result is an art that does not fit easily into a specific category; it tends to be an “outsider art” with elements of fantasy.

It is difficult to discern the full meaning of paintings that are based on personal visions. An interpretation is often speculative and even when artists offer explanations their paintings may not support what they say. In the “Praying Saviour,” Csontváry places an elongated Christ with lengthy hands and upraised arms close to the center of the painting; his white robe stands out against the dark foreground. To the upper far left and on a higher level is Moses with stone tablets and to his right the city of Jerusalem is glowing in the distance. In the bottom foreground are mask-like faces; they have been interpreted as disciples, yet we cannot be sure. Their expressions seem to indicate something foreboding is near. They appear to be alarmed. Perhaps they have just learned that Christ will be put to death.

Painters often utilize well known symbols but artists also are known to employ personal signs. Among Christian symbols, a cedar of Lebanon represents Christ and Csontváry visited Lebanon to make paintings of them. In “Praying Saviour,” a tall cedar tree is included with two figures clad in dark clothes at its base kneeling over a slab on top of a tomb-like rectangular stone. It would be reasonable to assume the tree represents Christ and the stone represents Christ’s tomb. Csontváry, however, sometimes used a tree as his own personal symbol; the tree may have been his way of placing himself symbolically in the painting. [It is of course also possible this tree is only meant to be a tree representing nothing more than itself.] At an upper level behind the tree is a modern day church with its lights on and the sky glowing as it would at dawn. The church lights seem to be a beacon and people are being drawn toward it. Taken together, these images may be interpreted as representing the journey of Christianity. Moses with the tablets represents the Old Testament, Christ represents the New Testament, and the light from the church and sky represents the dawning of hope and enlightenment that was brought by Christ’s word.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha | Art for Proper 11C

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
c. 1620
Oil on canvas, 60 x 103,5 cm
National Gallery, London
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, oil on canvas, 1618, Diego Velázquez, 1599-1660

In the seventeenth century, Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn were the two most noted artists in northern Europe, and Diego Velázquez was the unrivaled master of painting in Spain. Velázquez graduated from Don Francisco Pacheco’s workshop academy in Seville, married his daughter, and a few years later moved to Madrid. Soon he was working for King Philip IV at the Spanish Court where he remained throughout his life.

While he was still in Seville, Velázquez further developed skills and expanded his range of subjects by painting domestic settings. Kitchen scenes were popular with the public and often they conveyed an underlying message connecting everyday life in Spain with biblical events. “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” depicts a scene of a maid preparing garlic mayonnaise to go with the fish that will be served for dinner. The maid’s expression indicates she is upset and the woman behind her is calling attention to a scene in the upper right corner of the painting. We can not be sure if the smaller scene (like an inset) is intended to be a reflection in a mirror, a hatch (an opening) through which we are looking into an adjacent room, or a painting on the kitchen wall. Velázquez used devices such as reflections and paintings within paintings throughout his career.

In the usual interpretation of this painting, the two figures in the kitchen and the figures in the upper right hand scene are many centuries apart in time. The smaller scene shows Jesus seated in the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Mary is seated at his feet and Martha is standing behind her. In the biblical story, Martha became busy serving food and drink while Mary seemed oblivious to the fact that her sister was doing all of the work alone. Instead of helping her sister, Mary sat down and listened to Jesus. Martha was frustrated at this and wondered if Jesus cared that her sister was leaving all of the serving chores up to her; she hoped Jesus would ask Mary to help her. Jesus told Martha that her concern was misplaced and that in sitting and listening to him, Mary had made a good choice.

The frustration of the maid pictured by Velázquez is similar to that of Martha. She is trying to make preparations for a meal but is working by herself and is distraught about all that needs to be done. The woman behind her is calling the maid’s attention to the scene of Jesus, Martha, and Mary; pointing out that spiritual nourishment is an important part of life as well.

It has been suggested this kitchen scene is not set in seventeenth century Spain but rather is in the home of Martha and Mary when Christ was there. If this interpretation of the painting is accepted, the person believed to be an upset maid in the kitchen is actually Martha herself and the second woman with Jesus in the smaller scene is another guest.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Elijah on the Fire-cart | Art for Proper 8C

Elijah on the Fire-cart
Giotto
Elijah on the Fire-cart (on the decorative band)
1304-06
Fresco
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
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Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Elijah on the Fire-Cart (within a decorative band), Fresco, c.1304-06, Giotto di Bondone, c.1266-1337

When image makers created icons and illuminated manuscripts for Byzantine Churches, their efforts were toward projecting a spiritual realm; they were not trying to depict the familiar world of our daily experiences. In Italy during the late thirteenth century, however, changes were taking place; interest in earthly matters and the physical world was leading the way to the Renaissance. Art gave visual form to this changing world and Giotto (JOT toe) played a key role in the advancement of painting. Early in his career, he worked with Cimabue who was shifting away from Byzantine art but Giotto broke from it even further. He depicted biblical subjects with gestures and expressions of real people in a natural world.

Very early in the fourteenth century, Giotto received a commission to paint frescos in the Scrovegni (The Arena) Chapel in Padua. The cycle of paintings depicts events in the life of Mary’s parents, the life of Christ, and the Last Judgment. These paintings fill the entire walls of the Chapel and are divided by wide borders that simulate marble mosaic patterns. Within the borders are images of saints, prophets, and Old Testament figures that are related in subject to the paintings adjacent to them. The image of “Elijah on the Fire-Cart” – painted in a quatrefoil within the border – is not a dramatic presentation; the chariot and horses are not engulfed totally in flames but the plumes of fire and overall red coloration of both the horse and cart indicates it is definitely afire. A whirlwind is not indicated but drama was not Giotto’s intent. The placement of Elijah is in accordance with a custom of showing parallels between Old and New Testament events. As a person progresses forward in the Chapel the small painting of Elijah’s ascension inside the border will be seen just before seeing, “Ascension of Christ” to its immediate right. “Elijah and the Fire-Cart” serves only as a small tie-in within the border.

Note

The Scrovegni Chapel: The wealthy Enrico Scrovegni purchased land for a palace and private chapel at the site of a former Roman amphitheatre known as the “Arena.” Hence, the chapel is known as “The Arena Chapel.”

Quatrefoil: In the fourteenth and fifteen century, circles and squares were regarded to be perfect shapes. A “quatrefoil” (meaning four leaves) is a framework made of four circles of equal diameter arranged so they all overlap equally in the center. When the overlapping lines of the circles are removed, the space it creates serves as a frame for decorative additions to architecture. Giotto’s “Elijah in the Fire-Cart” is painted in a quatrefoil.

Space Probe: Haley’s Comet passed by the earth in the year 1301. Three years later when Giotto painted the “Adoration of the Magi” in the Arena Chapel, he used an image of the comet as the star of Bethlehem. In 1986, when the European Space Agency launched sensors to examine the nucleus of Haley’s Comet, they saw it fitting to name the probe, “Giotto.”

Hovak Najarian © 2013