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

Parable of the Unjust Judge | Art for Proper 24

Luke 18:2 “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

Illustration of the Parable of the Unjust Judge
John Everett Millais
Illustration of the Parable of the Unjust Judge from the New Testament Gospel of Luke (Luke 18:1-9)
The Parables of Our Lord (1863) Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Parable of the Unjust Judge, wood engraving, 1863, John Everett Millais, 1829-1896

In France – from the latter part of the eighteenth to beyond mid-nineteenth century – Neoclassicism was the style of art perpetuated by the state sponsored French Academy and its influence was widespread. Romanticism rose in opposition to it and had far reaching influence as well. England, however, tended to be independent and had its prestigious Royal Academy of Art; it was not easily swayed by outside styles.

Instead of falling in line with accepted mid-nineteenth century academic styles, seven young English painters of similar interests – led by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – organized a secret society and called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was their belief that false ideals had artificiality entered art during the Renaissance. As the term, “Pre-Raphaelite” implies, they proposed starting anew by going back to a time before Raphael – to the Middle Ages. One of Millais’s paintings from this period, “Christ at the Home of His Parents,” caused a scandal because the Holy Family was not represented regally as it would have been in a classical Renaissance painting. Instead, Millais depicted a working class family with Christ (as a boy) in his father’s messy carpentry workshop. After his youthful efforts, Millais withdrew from the brotherhood and became an academic painter; his critics accused him of “selling out” for financial gain. In time, he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Art and later became its president.

Among Millais’ noted works was a series of drawings illustrating Christ’s parables. These drawings were reproduced as wood engravings by the acclaimed Dalziel brothers and published in 1864 as “Parables of our Lord.” Although some parables are difficult to translate into pictorial form, Millais’ “Parable of the Unjust Judge” is what we might imagine the scene to have been like. In this story, a poor widow desires justice but the judge hearing her case is not sympathetic or compassionate. Millais has placed the widow on the floor in front of the judge (seated with ankles crossed) on his cushioned, throne-like chair; an attendant stands by with a fan to contribute to his comfort. The widow is persistent as she leans forward over the judge’s legs and pleads with him while a guard with an arm on either side of the woman is trying to restrain her. The judge seems to regard her as a pest – he turns his face with a look of superior disdain and keeps her at bay with his right arm. His open left hand is in front of his face in a gesture that seems to be saying, “Enough already!” The man peering over the chair and the man standing at the judge’s immediate right are finding the widow’s appeal to be amusing. The scribe, however, seems sympathetic as he lifts his pen momentarily and looks up at the widow. The widow’s persistence paid off and her petition was granted.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Golden Calf from The Nuremberg Chronicle / The Marriage Feast | Art for A Proper 23

Exodus 32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

The Golden Calf
The Golden Calf from The Nuremberg Chronicle
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Matthew 22:14
`Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
(Matthew’s extended interpretation of the parable. Is this all that is there?)

The Marriage Feast
Millais, John Everett
Print, 1864
From “Illustrations to ‘The parables of our Lord'”, engraved by the Dalziel Brothers
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