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

Elijah Fed by the Angel | Art for Proper 7C

Elijah Fed by the Angel
TINTORETTO
Elijah Fed by the Angel
1577-78
Oil on canvas, 370 x 265 cm
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice
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Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Elijah Fed by the Angel, oil on canvas, c.1577-78, Tintoretto, 1518-1594

During the Renaissance, the composition of many paintings seemed staged but on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo did not organize figures in tableau-like fashion. Later, when he painted, “The Last Judgment,” he introduced even greater dynamic movement. Many sixteenth century artists admired this aspect of his work and it was Venetian painter Tintoretto’s stated desire to emulate the drawing ability of Michelangelo. Like Michelangelo, Tintoretto was praised in his lifetime and history also has treated him kindly; today, he continues to be regarded as an artist of the highest rank.

When Tintoretto received the commission to create paintings for the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice (an institute dedicated to charitable work), he was free from the whims of patrons. He was given permission to develop his own themes. On the ceiling of Sala Superiore (the upper room of the Scuola di San Rocco) – referred to occasionally as Tintoretto’s “Sistine” ceiling – he painted thirteen scenes from the Old Testament. The themes are on the subject of thirst, hunger, and disease; Tintoretto’s “Elijah Fed by an Angel” is one of the illustrations showing God’s providence in times of hunger.

Biblical events leading to the time when Elijah was fed by an angel goes back to when the people of Israel along with King Ahab, and the priests of Baal went to Mt. Carmel for a display of God’s power. The priests of Baal and Elijah each built an altar. When the priests prayed for fire to offer a sacrifice, their efforts were in vain but when Elijah prayed, an intense fire engulfed the altar of God. After this demonstration, hundreds of the priests of Baal were put to death and King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, a follower of Baal, became livid. Elijah feared for his life and fled to Beersheba in Judah where he went into the wilderness. He sat under a shrub, prayed, and being exhausted, fell asleep. While asleep, an angel brought bread and water to him. Tintoretto’s painting depicts Elijah lying motionless as he is sleeping in the shade at the edge of the desert. Above him is the angel descending with wings and arms outspread. Elijah was awakened by the angel and he ate the bread; he then fell asleep again. Elijah was awakened once more and told to eat because a long journey awaited him.

Note

A painting is a surface on which pigment has been arranged to create an image. The arts of literature, music, theater, and cinema are like journeys. A duration of time is required to travel, read or listen. It also takes time to fully absorb a painting but its subject can be seen superficially in its entirety at a glance; further study will reveal details and deeper content. Artists have found that similarity (of colors shapes, lines, and textures) forms a very strong visual bond. “Elijah Fed by the Angel,” is unified clearly by similar curvilinear forms. The curves unify the composition and are also related visually to the oval-shaped canvas.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard | Art for Proper 6C

Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth's Vineyard Giclee

Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee.
Print by Sir Frank Dicksee Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard, Frank Dicksee, 1853-1929 [The source of this painting did not cite the date or medium.]

The term “jezebel” has come to mean an embodiment of wickedness in a woman. This association comes from the beautiful Phoenician Princess Jezebel who married King Ahab of Israel during the time of the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was a worshiper of Baal, and a power-seeking woman with no qualms about using any means available to get her way, even murder. After Ahab took her as his bride, possibly for political reasons, she began scheming to bring about the worship of Baal in Israel. Jewish prophets were killed and Elijah was threatened. Ahab, the king, seemed to have neither the will nor the ability to prevent her from doing as she pleased.

One day Ahab decided the vineyard near his castle would be a nice place for a vegetable garden. The vineyard, however, belonged to Naboth and it had been in his family for many generations. Ahab offered to trade another piece of property or pay for it but his offers were rejected. Naboth told Ahab the Lord forbids him to sell his inheritance. When Ahab saw he could not acquire the property, he became ill and would not eat. Jezebel’s quick solution to the problem was to have Naboth killed. Frank Dicksee’s painting depicts the time after Naboths death when Jezebel and Ahab, along with their servants go to the vineyard to claim it. They are surprised by the appearance of a very angry Elijah. The expression on Jezebel’s face expresses her intense dislike of Elijah and her displeasure at being confronted. Early in Dicksee’s career he worked as an illustrator; the painting, “Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard” is likely from that early period. It is a style associated with Sunday School storybook illustrations and differs from the subtle use of color seen typically in Dicksee’s mature paintings.

Dicksee was admired greatly in his lifetime. He became President of the Royal Academy of Art, he was knighted, and King George named him to the Royal Victorian Order. The measure of an artist, however, is determined usually by the insights and understanding they give us about ourselves and the world we experience. Frank Dicksee and Vincent van Gogh were born in the same year (1853) but they followed very different paths. Today, van Gogh’s work continues to stir our emotions whereas Dicksee’s paintings of romanticized events are rarely given attention by art historians.

Note

This painting of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah is being reproduced currently for commercial purposes and its medium is noted as, “giclee” (zhee-klay). The original image, however, was not created as a print. The French term “giclee, indicates simply that Dicksee’s painting (possibly a watercolor) was reproduced by a finer version of an inkjet printer. When the term “giclee” was coined, the calculated intent was to imbue this copying process with greater cachet. Artists now are creating images directly with inkjet printers but at the present time they are regarded still as pioneers in a new medium.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Elijah Increases the Oil of the Widow | Art for Epiphany 4C

Luke 4:25-26 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

Elijah Increases the Oil of the Widow
Elijah Increases the Oil of the Widow
1/69-70
Pewter-lead alloy, height 173 cm (without socle)
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna
MESSERSCHMIDT, Franz Xaver
(b. 1736, Wiesensteig, d. 1783, Bratislava
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Elijah Increases the Oil of the Widow, Pewter, 1769-70, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, 1736-1783

The title of Franz Messerschmidt’s, sculpture, “Elijah Increases the Oil of the Widow,” sets up an expectation of the biblical story (1 Kings, 17:7-16). The work only alludes to the story, however, and an occasional reference to it as the “so called Zarephath fountain” is fitting. It is primarily a fountain sculpture of a woman pouring water in the style of figures seen in courtyards and gardens throughout Europe.

The biblical account of Elijah and a poor widow tells of a time of famine. God told Elijah to go to the city of Zarephath to meet the widow. There he saw the widow gathering wood near the gate of the city. She was going to build a fire and use the last of her flour and oil to prepare bread. Then she and her son would have a final meal and it was likely they soon would die. Elijah, a stranger to the widow, asked her for water but then, as she was going to get some for him, he also asked for a piece of bread. She hesitated but Elijah promised that if she prepared bread for him she would never run out of oil and flour. The widow had faith and fed Elijah; thereafter provisions were miraculously provided for her.

Franz Messerschmidt, an Austrian, established a successful career sculpting busts of dignitaries in a fashionable baroque manner but in 1765 his studies in Rome brought him in direct contact with classical art. His visit to Italy coincided with a time when there was great interest in the excavations at Herculaneum, a Roman city covered and preserved by the ashes of Vesuvius. Upon his return to Austria, he completed several full-sized figures that were influenced clearly by classicism. Among these commissions was a courtyard fountain sculpture for a palace in Vienna. In its typical Roman niche setting, Elijah and the widow’s son are nowhere to be seen. The widow’s stance, clothing, hair style and the amphora from which she is pouring water are all from Greek and Roman sources. At the widow’s feet, Messerschmidt places two cherubs to do God’s work. One is lifting a food storage urn to the widow and another has his arms around an urn ready to offer it as well. The offering of storage urns by cherubs informs us that ongoing provisions from God are being supplied to the widow.

Note

In the eighteenth century, one of the metals alloyed with tin to make pewter was lead. Messerschmidt used pewter and as he became older he began exhibiting peculiar behavior; it is very likely this was due to lead poisoning.

In Christian art, plump rosy-cheeked cherubs were the counterparts to small Roman cupids. In appearance, cherubs often were not discernable from cupids and they were used in a similar manner. By the seventeenth century the question of whether a figure in art was a sacred cherub or a secular cupid depended on the theme of the work. As cupids, they were agents of secular love and as cherubs they represented the omnipresence of God.

Hovak Najarian © 2013