Transfiguration

Art for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

Transfiguration, fresco, 1440-1442,
Fra Angelico, c. 1400-1455

Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]
Gospel reading for the Last Sunday After The Epiphany

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

When Jesus and his disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them “Who do they say the Son of man is?”  Discussions and teachings followed “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)

In Transfiguration, Christ is in a white robe with outstretched arms and, as appropriate, is the central figure .  In addition, Fra Angelico has placed him on a pedestal-like rock above everyone, and by design he is larger than the other figures.  Christ is surrounded by a mandorla (a body halo) and his head is surrounded by a traditional cruciform halo.

In this painting, Moses and Elijah are each presented in bust form, not as full figures; Moses, on the left with light emanating from his forehead represents the law and Elijah on the right represents the prophets.  [In some paintings of the Transfiguration, Moses is holding the Ten Commandments and a scroll is placed in the hands of Elijah.]

Below Moses, on the left, is the Virgin Mary with her hands crossed over her chest and to the right, below Elijah, is Saint Dominic.  [In 1435 the Monastery of San Marcos was turned over to the Dominican order.]  He is standing with hands together in a position of prayer.  Dominic’s mother reported that she saw a star on his chest when he was born and sometimes (as here within his halo) he can be identified by a star placed above his head.  Of course, Mary and Dominic were not present at the Transfiguration, but it is not unusual for artists to use creative license to include non-participating figures on the sidelines as observers of an important event.  In the foreground are Peter, James, and John.  They have just heard God’s voice say: “This is my son.  Hear him” and “…they fell on their faces and were filled with awe.” (Matt. 17:5-6)

In 1407, Guido di Pietro joined the Dominican order in Fiesole, Italy (near Florence) and at his vows took the name Giovanni.  Thus he became known as Friar Giovanni da Fiesole (Brother John of Fiesole).  Artist and historian, Giorgio Vasari, referred to him as Brother John the angelic one and today he is known simply as Fra Angelico.  His life as an artist was devoted to the Church and at the monastery of San Marcos in Florence; he painted the walls of the cells (prayer and meditation rooms) with scenes from the life of Christ.  Fra Angelico’s Transfiguration is in cell number six.

In Europe, during the early part of the fifteenth century, medieval art was still a presence, but the City of Florence was at the heart of the Renaissance.    Fra Angelico was fully aware of the trend toward humanism that was influencing the art of his time.  The changes that were taking place are reflected in his paintings.   

The actual site of the Transfiguration is not known; accounts in the Gospels do not name a specific mountain.  Mt. Tabor is the traditional site but Jesus and the disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi prior to the Transfiguration and the closest and highest mountain there is Mount Hermon.  It is the highest mountain in Israel and this may have been the mountain noted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Hovak Najarian © 2014, edited in 2022

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

Joseph Recognized by Brothers

Art for Epiphany +7C

Joseph Recognized by Brothers, oil on canvas, c.1800,
Francois Gerard, 1770-1817.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Joseph was born at a time when his father, Jacob, was old and he became the favorite son. This favoritism caused resentment among his brothers. Negative feelings resulted also from a dream Joseph had that was interpreted to mean someday his brothers would bow down to him. Joseph was seventeen years old when he went to his brothers as they were tending sheep. When his brothers saw him coming they plotted to kill him but then instead, sold him as a slave to a passing merchant who was going to Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream which revealed there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. With Joseph’s guidance, grain was stored during the time of abundance and Egypt was well prepared. When famine was experienced in Canaan, Joseph’s father sent his brothers to Egypt to purchase food. Unbeknownst to them, Joseph in the ensuing years had become a high Egyptian official and he was the one they would have to meet.

Francois Gerard’s painting, Joseph Recognized by Brothers, depicts the moment Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers. The brothers are shown displaying a range of emotions; some are kneeling and in body language seem to be exhibiting guilt and remorse for what they did. In contrast to this, two of the brothers and Joseph are reaching out to each other in joy. The brothers at the far right are staying back and holding each other. Perhaps they are fearful of what Joseph might do. The young boy reaching and looking up at Joseph is likely a nephew who came with his father. Joseph places his hand gently on the child’s shoulder.

In 1663, France initiated the Prix de Rome which gave artists (and later, musicians and architects) an opportunity to study in Italy. The purpose of this award was to put promising artists in contact with Roman culture and the masters of the Italian Renaissance. One outcome of this was a trend toward classicism in French art.

In the late 1700s after years of turmoil, the French Revolution overthrew King Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte took charge ultimately as 1st Consul. Classicism in art suited Napoleon perfectly and he appointed Jacques Louis David, an avid classicist, to be the head of the French Academy of art. David’s art promoted what Napoleon favored; discipline, honor, sacrifice strength of character, and devotion of one’s efforts to the state.

Though classicism was sanctioned by the state, the concept of romanticism was always present in art and Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt (1798-1801) generated great interest in Egyptology. It set off fashion fads in both France and England and piqued the interest of painters as well. Francois Gerard’s Joseph Recognized by Brothers was painted during the time of Napoleon’s Egyptian military venture.

Gerard studied under David and elements of classicism in the painting of Joseph and his brothers are apparent in their robes. Gerard’s nod to this scene’s Egyptian location is brought in by Joseph’s headdress and the sphinxes on the arms of Joseph’s chair and the background building. Were it not for these details and its title, this painting might be taken for an illustration of a Greek tragedy.

Winning the Prize of Rome was coveted, difficult, and highly competitive. Gerard’s teacher Jacques Louis David was rejected three times and considered suicide before receiving the award on his fourth attempt. [In later years Eduard Degas and Maurice Ravel were rejected.] Gerard, too, was rejected but because of his mother’s death, he was unable to complete a painting to submit to the jury the following year. After that, he fell into poverty but recovered to gain success and acclaim through portraiture. Napoleon commissioned paintings from him and then after he fell from power, Gerard became the court painter of Louis XVIII.

Hovak Najarian © 2019

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

Epiphany +7 Year C

Put your trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on its riches. –Psalm 37:3

Welcome. Our handout features the readings for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (Feb. 20 in 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

Forgiveness is a prominent theme of the Gospel passage this week. I invite you to explore The Work of Forgiveness a Lectionary Essay by Debie Thomas on the Journey with Jesus webzine.

If forgiveness isn’t denial or a detour, if forgiveness isn’t quick — then what is it?  What is Jesus asking of us when he invites us to love, bless, pray, give, lend, do good, withhold judgment, extend mercy, and turn the other cheek?

The Work of Forgiveness by Debie Thomas

Check out, too, what our Church remembers about Saint Matthias The Apostle and Photini, The Samaritan Woman (at the Well). She is widely honored in the Orthodox traditions and our Episcopal Church joins them in commemorating her. Through this week, read the stories of others who studied, prayed and worked for God’s glory. Let their stories invite you to do the same.

Pay attention. Keep learning.

View or download the Handout for Epiphany +7C including short biographies for Saint Matthias The Apostle and Photini, The Samaritan Woman (at the Well).

View or download an exploration of classicism and romanticism in art by Hovak Najarian.

View or download Art for Epiphany +7C. “Joseph recognized by brothers” by Francois Gerard with commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Please come back to this site throughout the week in order to keep learning.

The Work of Forgiveness

Lectionary Essay for Epiphany +7C (Feb 20, 2022)

 If forgiveness isn’t denial or a detour, if forgiveness isn’t quick — then what is it?  What is Jesus asking of us when he invites us to love, bless, pray, give, lend, do good, withhold judgment, extend mercy, and turn the other cheek?

Lectionary Essay for Epiphany +7C by Debie Thomas on Journey with Jesus

A timely meditation by Debie Thomas, one of my favorite teachers, on a favorite website, Journey with Jesus. Here, Debie examines Jesus’ teaching we will hear on Sunday, February 20, 2022, from Luke 6:27-38.

She pays particular attention to “the rising tide of rage and meanness in our Covid-weary culture” and confesses that the readings appointed for Sunday cause her some discomfort. Why? She answers: “Because the readings are about forgiveness.  They are about the work of forgiveness, and the challenges they pose to our ‘shove or be shoved’ culture are daunting.”

I encourage you to read her essay. I encourage you to take to heart her exploration of Jesus’ teaching and, as you follow Jesus, please engage in the work of forgiveness.

More

Forgiveness (on Brother Give Us A Word a daily meditation offered by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) a religious order of the Episcopal Church.

Index Page of “words” offered by the SSJE Brothers

About Wind in the Chimes

Wind Chimes: September 25 2012 (an introduction)

Wind in the Chimes (renaming and a reintroduction of Wind Chimes, 7/21/20)

Epiphany +6 Year C

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. Jer 17:7

Glad you have come here to find the readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Feb. 13 in 2022) in Year C of our Lectionary.

Trust in the Lord, trust in those who testify to God’s love and purposes, trust in those who have gone before you—these are among the themes this Sunday (and this week).

Check out, too, what our Church remembers about Absalom Jones and, through this week, others who trusted in the Lord and worked tirelessly for God’s glory in the name of Jesus.

Finally, check out what Frederick Buechner has to say about the Biblical revelation about resurrection and the notion of immortality. See that he accepts the Biblical revelation and trusts God. What about you?

View or Download today’s handout

The Collect for Proper 11

A Wind in the Chimes meditation

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Collect for Proper 11, Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 231

This is a short meditation on the Collect for Proper 11 (July 19, 2020). It is my invitation to you to take the names and descriptions of God as your own prayer-starter or meditation. Listen also to our requests of God: “… have compassion on our weakness … mercifully give us (good, useful, helpful, wise gifts) those things which for our unworthiness (what does that admission do to you?) we dare not ask, and for our blindness (what are you not seeing?) cannot ask.”

More information

“The Collect: An Anglican/Episcopal Treasure” is a very fine description of this prayer form by C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl in their book, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer.

Even more

Wind Chimes: September 25 2012 (an introduction)

Wind in the Chimes (renaming and reintroduction Wind Chimes, 7/21/20)

(Re)Introduction of Wind (in the) Chimes

Wind Chimes is being reborn as Wind in the Chimes.

In the time of the coronavirus it seems opportune to revisit and rename Wind Chimes—for a short time it was a regular feature of this Blog.

In the original post I wrote:

When a wind chime catches the wind (even the whisper of a wind) it makes music, it interprets the wind in ways that are always the same and always changing. In regular posts I will share links to news (religion news), reflections and meditations (related to our Sunday readings as often as possible), prayers or prayer starters, resources to help you keep learning and growing (spiritually), and whatever else I come across.

Wind Chimes posted September 25, 2012 on Hear what the Spirit is saying

Renamed “Wind in the Chimes” the intent remains the same: to help you and to help me better hear what the Spirit is saying.

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

Click the image for more information

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
Click the image for more information

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

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