B Proper 14, Art for August 12, 2012

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David mourns Absalom
Artist: CHAGALL, Marc
Date: 1931-39
Technique: Etching
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Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

David Mourns Absalom, 1931-1939, Heliogravure, Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 14, Art for August 12, 2012

Marc Chagall was born into a close-knit Jewish family that moved to Vitebsk, Russia in his youth. His interest in art was encouraged and when he was a young man he left home to live in Paris, the center of the art world at that time. In Paris, he was influenced by Cubism but did not continue in that direction. Instead, his paintings evolved into a personal art that has been called, Fantasy, Expressionism, Surrealism, or even Naïve Art; none of these categories fit entirely. In 1914, when World War I began, Chagall went back to Russia but while there, the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) changed his world again. He returned to Paris after the war. Later, the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s was of great concern and he tried to express his thoughts through paintings; subjects included scenes of the crucifixion. That a devout Jew would paint a crucifixion was unusual but he said, for him, the figure on the cross also symbolized the suffering of the Jewish people. Chagall’s David Mourns Absalom, was made during this time period.

In Chagall’s work there is usually a child-like freedom of expression and rules of proportion or the law of gravity are not inhibiting factors. People may be placed upside down or floating freely through the air, and there is charm in scenes such as a man (possibly his uncle) on a rooftop playing the violin. In contrast to his usual work, Chagall’s David Mourns Absalom is not a celebration. When David was told Absalom had been killed, his grief was overwhelming. He said, “Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, Oh Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33). Even with David’s worldly glory – represented by his crown and the fortress-like walls and tower in the background – he could not change what happened. David with a hand on his forehead is sitting on the ground carrying his grief alone while people passing on the road below are preoccupied with their own concerns. The reason for Chagall’s placement of the sun in the background is not clear; as a setting sun it may reflect David’s despair. As a rising sun, it may indicate hope for the future.

Inasmuch as acid is used to etch a plate, a heliogravure (the process used to print Chagall’s drawing) may be called an “etching” but it differs from a print made by an artist working directly on a prepared plate with a scriber. Nicephore Niecpe of France developed this process in the early nineteenth century while trying to make a photograph. It has been known since the time of the early Greeks that light carries images. If we place ourselves in a light free room (a camera obscura – meaning “dark room”) with a small hole in one wall, light enters the room through the hole and the outside scene is projected (upside down) onto the opposite wall; Niepce and others were seeking a way to make a permanent copy of the projected image but early photographs faded rather quickly. In answer to this, Niepce invented a method that could print an image in ink. In this process, an image was transferred onto an emulsion covered copper plate. After several steps, the plate was etched, inked, and printed. Although early photographs would fade, an image of it could be printed permanently on paper in ink. Drawings could be reproduced by this method as well.


Heliogravure translates to “sun engraving.” Sunlight is used to harden the light sensitive emulsion while preparing the plate but a heliogravure is not an “engraving” in the traditional sense. Recessed areas are not removed with a burin. They are eaten away with acid and therefore it is an “etching.”

Nicephore Niecpe is credited with making the first photograph (in 1826).

If a person is not familiar with Chagall’s work and saw only David Mourns Absalom, they might think it was refrigerator-door-art drawn by a grandchild. It is likely that this drawing was a preliminary sketch done hastily with charcoal as Chagall was exploring ideas.

Images from Chagall’s paintings of village scenes and houses were used for sets of the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” (based on the Tevye stories of Sholem Aleichem). Chagall designed sets for Stravinsky’s ballet, “The Firebird,” and he also painted murals. Two of his murals were for opera houses; the Metropolitan in New York City and the Paris Opera.


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

B Proper 13, Art for August 5, 2012

LUIKEN, Caspar (Dutch, 1672-1708)
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Artwork: Nathan rebukes David for his adultery
Artist: LUIKEN, Caspar (Dutch, 1672-1708)
Date: Published 1712
Technique: Copper engraving
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Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Nathan Rebukes David for His Adultery, Published in 1712, Copper Engraving, Caspar Luiken (1672-1708)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 13, Art for August 5, 2012

At the time Caspar Luiken was born, Amsterdam was still aglow from its golden age of art and commerce. During those years it was the wealthiest city in Europe and an important center for the arts. His father, Jan Luiken, was a contemporary of Rembrandt and Franz Hals during their latter years and was a very successful illustrator and publisher. This was a time before photographs were known; a time when highly skilled engravers such as Jan and his son Caspar filled a need for images used in publications. Caspar learned engraving from his father and it was hoped he would carry on the family business but after working with him initially, he went to Germany to be on his own. Six years later he returned to help financially support his father but then died at the age of thirty-six. A book of Caspar’s engravings of Old Testament events, including Nathan Rebukes David for his Adultery, was published posthumously.

In the Second Book of Samuel (Chap. 12), the prophet Nathan was sent by the Lord to visit David and upon his arrival, told him a story of two men; one rich and the other poor. In the story, the wealthy man used his position to take advantage over the poor one. When David heard what the rich man had done he was furious but then Nathan said to him, “You are that man.” Nathan then reminded him that he had “…murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife.” At this, David became remorseful and confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He then listened as Nathan told him what the sad consequences of his actions would be. In Caspar’s engraving, David is crownless, his head is downcast, and he is slump-shouldered as Nathan points his finger at him in a scene reminiscent of a Greek tragedy.

Although Caspar Luiken lived during the Baroque period, the architectural setting gives this illustration a classical quality. Ornate aspects of the print are limited primarily to the drapery, robes, carpet, and the two covered storage vessels. In keeping with what had become standard practice for an artist of this era, a strong light source defines the folds of the robes and fills the space with high contrasts. Caspar also demonstrates his skill in creating an illusion of pictorial depth. Through an accurate use of linear perspective, our attention is taken back to a brightly lit space and then a window takes us back even farther into a distant landscape.

In an illustration created more than 175 years after master engravers Albrecht Durer and Lucas van Lyden were active artists, Caspar’s print is an excellent example of the subtle values (a range from black to white) that can be achieved with simply a burin, copper plate, ink, and paper. An actual continuous gradation of tone (as in a photograph or ink wash) is not a technique that is inherent in the engraving process. To make gray tones an artist must place lines close together in a technique called hatching. In the architecture directly above Nathan’s head, the simple “parallel hatching” produces a light gray value. At the very bottom of the print the dark area is rendered in “crosshatching.” The fine parallel lines are engraved horizontally and then crossed by lines in the opposite direction. Areas that are crosshatched carry more ink and produce a darker value in the print. Through skillful use of hatching, Caspar is able to control the lightness and darkness throughout this illustration.

Jan Luiken completed more than 3,200 works and his son Caspar produced over a 1000 engravings; all in exquisite detail. Yet today the name, Luiken, seldom appears in art history books. It is unfortunate that today’s critics and art historians tend to value art that is on a wall or a pedestal more than they do small prints made for an audience that appreciates the intimacy of a book.

[A brief description of the engraving process is given in the note following the Art Commentary for: “B Proper 7, Jun 24, 2012.”]


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

B Proper 12, Art for July 29, 2012

SALVIATI, Cecchino del
(b. 1510, Firenze, d. 1563, Roma)
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Bathsheba Goes to King David
Palazzo Sacchetti, RomeClick to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Bathsheba Goes to King David, 1552-1554, Fresco, Cecchino del Salviati (1510-1563)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 12, Art for July 29, 2012

As a young man, Francisco de’Rossi (before taking the name Cecchino del Salviati), studied with several artists in Florence, the city of his birth. Among his teachers was Andrea del Sarto, whose skills were so highly regarded he was called, “the faultless painter.” After two years in del Sarto’s studio, de’Rossi’s left to work on an unfinished fresco at the palace of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati in Rome and through his connections, further commissions were received. While there, he also determined it would be a good career move to take his patron’s surname as his own. Now, in addition to the name, Cecchino del Salviati, he continues to be known by his given name, Francisco de’Rossi, as well as Francisco Salviati and Il Salviati.

As the classicism of the Renaissance waned, Mannerist characteristics increased. In painting, sculpture, and architecture of this period there was frequently novelty, artificiality, discrepancy in scale, and linear movement (Vasari referred to this as a “serpentine line”). Also, in many Mannerist works there was a manipulation of pictorial space. Instead of staying with the exactness of Renaissance perspective, they modified space and often made it ambiguous; at times, a viewer is unable to determine what the artist was intending. In his paintings, Salviati used many of these Mannerist devices; note particularly the background, curvilinear staircase, and Bathsheba’s melodramatic pose in Bathsheba Goes to King David

This painting of Bathsheba is one of the frescos based on the life of King David painted by Salviati at the Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome. The presentation of this story, however, differs from the usual paintings of Bathsheba. In a typical painting, Bathsheba is bathing while King David is ogling her from the rooftop of his palace. Often, the primary focus is on a voluptuous Bathsheba at her bath. Salviati moves this story forward to the time she has come to the palace to see David. It is a rather unusual painting in that Salviati presents us with a look at Bathsheba from both back and front as she pauses before ascending the stairs. In the lower right corner of this painting we see her from the back; her fingers are lifting a portion of her dress coquettishly. Her left hand is holding her outer garment and she is turning her head to the left. Next we see her again at the foot of a spiral staircase. Bathsheba is now in the same pose but we see her from an opposite point of view; from the front we are shown she is wearing a diaphanous dress. At the top of the stairs King David is in a toga and finally the sequence ends in the shadow of David’s chamber where we are given a glimpse of the couple embracing.


Venus, Bathsheba and Odalisque: In art, the portrayal of Venus was not to be seen in medieval art; Mary was the image venerated during those years. During the Renaissance, Mary continued to be honored but Venus made a comeback. Not only did artists paint scenes of the dalliances of Venus and other goddesses but the Bible also became a source of titillating subjects such as Bathsheba. Later, in the nineteenth century, the romanticists were enamored with the exotic Near East and in art the odalisque (harem woman) replaced Venus as one of the favorite subjects.

Color: When black pigment is added to a color it is called a “shade.” When white pigment is added it becomes a “tint.” When water based paints are absorbed into wet plaster (as when painting a fresco) the white of the plaster combines with the pigment and this makes its color a little lighter; it becomes, in effect, a “tint.” Also it decreases the saturation (intensity) of the colors, thus frescos tend to be soft in tone.


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

B Proper 7, Art for June 24, 2012

LEYDEN, Lucas van
(b. 1494, Leiden, d. 1533, Leiden)

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David Playing the Harp before Saul
c. 1508
Engraving, 254 x 184 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Note: This image depicts today’s ALTERNATE Hebrew Bible reading
(1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16).
The normal reading is David & Goliath (1 Samuel 17: [1a, 4-11, 19-23], 32-49).

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

David Playing the Harp before Saul, 1530, Engraving, Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 7, Art for June 24, 2012

Dutch artist, Lucas van Leyden, was an extraordinary printmaker; only Albrecht Durer, whom he met and admired, was better known in his time. Like Durer, he was a master engraver and he too used Biblical stories as subject matter in his works. The engraving, David Playing the Harp before Saul, gives us an example of Lucas’ exceptional technical skill.

In the First Book of Samuel (16:23) we are given an account of the calming affect David’s music had on King Saul: “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”

In Lucas’ engraving, Saul is in a troubled state. David is standing to the left with fingers on the strings of his harp and the seated Saul is slumped in his throne and motionless. His face is passive, his eyes are turned aside unfocused, and he seems to be unable to understand or deal with his depression. There is nothing regal about him and in a different setting he could be overlooked as simply an old man. Following our initial study of David and Saul, our attention is shifted to two men standing behind the right arm of the throne. One gentleman, likely the court physician, is gesturing as they discuss Saul’s condition. Soldiers and guards with their halberd and spears are behind them in the shadows. The source of light, being from the front, leaves the background in darkness. This keeps our focus on the principal characters in the foreground and also adds to the sense of gloom overshadowing the scene.

In this composition, David, standing to the left with his harp, is the first to receive our attention. Our eyes move up to see his face and then we are led visually back down as we follow the edge of the harp and pause briefly at David’s spread fingers. From there the downward line of the harp curves to the right and leads us directly to Saul. The staff in Saul’s hand then points us back toward the center to the two men observing his despair. The back part of Saul’s throne keeps our focus contained and limits this composition to a tightly knit scene.


David Playing the Harp before Saul is an engraving on a copper plate. In terms of where ink is placed, an engraving is the opposite of a woodcut. In a woodcut (known as a relief print), ink is rolled onto the raised portion of a plate (a carved wooden surface). In a metal engraving the ink is carried below the surface of a plate. An engraver uses a small chisel-like hardened steel tool (called a burin) to carve shallow v-shaped grooves into a plate of softer metal (often copper). After a composition is completed to an artist’s satisfaction, ink is rubbed into the grooves and the surface of the plate is wiped clean; the ink however, being below the surface, remains in the grooves. A piece of slightly damp paper is laid over the plate and it is run through a press. As it goes through the press, the paper is forced against the plate and makes contact with the ink. When the paper is pulled off the plate, the ink is lifted out of the grooves. The print on the paper will be a mirror image of the composition. An artist must prepare the plate in reverse of the image seen in the print.

All editions pulled directly from a plate are “originals” and thousands could be printed potentially. Today, however, an artist makes usually a limited edition and then destroys or “cancels” the plate. The artist numbers and signs each edition by hand.


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Seeing beyond outward appearances

Samuel was tasked by God to anoint a new king. The tone was set in Samuel’s first ‘interview’ as “the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7

This week, we shared the story of Samuel, of David, and God that grew into the wisdom of Paul…

…we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 2 Corinthians 5:16 …

…becoming part of our Baptismal Covenant

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

May we have grace to see beyond physical appearances perceiving the integrity of the heart, God’s gift to us all.

What verses from Sunday’s (6/17/12) lessons spoke to your heart? What verses prompted questions and posed challenges? Let’s continue the conversation here.

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