The Potter and Wheel | Art for Proper 18C

Jeremiah 18:2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”

The Potter and Wheel
W. M. Thomson: The Land and the Book; or Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land. Vol. II. New York, 1859, picture p. 282
The Potter and Wheel
Jaffa, Palestine
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Potter and Wheel, Jaffa, Palestine, pen and ink (book illustration), 1859, William Hanna Thomson (19th century)

Clay is abundant. We tend to think of it as being almost worthless and despite the amount that is used (for everything from bricks to dinnerware), the supply is not being depleted. It is formed by the action of the elements as they break down and erode the surface of the earth. In the process, minute particles of decomposed rock and organic matter are moved by water to low lying areas where clay beds are formed. When clay is moist, it has great plasticity; often it can be used just as it is found. A potter wedges the clay – somewhat like kneading dough – to make it even in consistency and then a pot may be hand-built by the coil method, or “thrown” on a wheel.

A potter’s wheel is a simple device. Its top is a flat disc (today wheel heads are made usually from an aluminum alloy) and a shaft connects it to a larger and heavier disc below, a flywheel. The wheel head and flywheel are supported by a frame; attached to it may be a bench for the potter and a table that provides a place for a pail of water, clay, and tools. When making a pot on a wheel, a potter throws a ball of clay onto the wheel head. The hands are lubricated in water and the flywheel is kicked. As the wheel is turning, the hands are braced and placed on the clay to center it; the centered clay then is opened, raised and given form (bottle, bowl, storage vessel, etc). After a pot is trimmed and thoroughly dry (“bone dry”) it is placed in a kiln. The high temperature in a kiln fuses clay particles and hardens the pot.

In 1834, William McClure Thomson went to the Near East as a missionary and after twenty-three years in the Holy Land he wrote: The Land and the Book: Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land. In his book, Thomson wrote about the setting in which Bible stories took place and his son, William Hanna, illustrated the text with over 200 drawings. “The Potter and Wheel” depicts a Palestinian artisan giving final shape to a pot that has been thrown. “Throwing” is a process that has not changed for thousands of years and when Jeremiah went to the potter’s house, as directed by the Lord, the potter at the wheel would have been very much like what Thomson depicts in the nineteenth century illustration above. At the time Jeremiah arrived, a thrown pot was still on the wheel; the potter was reshaping it because it was flawed. For Jeremiah, seeing the potter at the wheel was a graphic demonstration. Just as a potter controls clay, the form of nations is in the Lord’s hands.


Although firing gives clay strength in compression, it is weak in tensile strength; it can break easily. Thus a person who exhibits a flaw in character is said to have, “feet of clay.”

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Christ and the Canaanite Woman, Art for B Proper 18

Mark 7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.

Christ and the Canaanite Woman
Christ and the Canaanite Woman
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Dutch, Amsterdam, about 1650
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, corrected with white bodycolor
7 7/8 x 11 in.
The Getty

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Previous post September 9, 2012)

Dutch artist, Rembrandt van Rijn, began his career in Amsterdam where a large merchant class appreciated art and had the means to support it. He gained early success but managing money was not a high priority with him and during the latter years of his life he struggled financially. He continued to work steadfastly, however, and produced art of the highest order.

The biblical setting for the drawing, Christ and the Canaanite Woman, is in the region of Tyre and Sidon; two ancient cities of Canaan on the Mediterranean Sea. When Christ was there he was approached by a woman of Syrophoenician origin (far left in the drawing) who begged him to heal her daughter. It was suggested by the disciples that she be turned away but Christ made it known that his ministry was for everyone and the woman was granted her request.

It is standard practice for composers to write sketches of musical themes and for writers to keep a file of ideas. In like manner, visual artists make sketches and use them as source material for their work. Christ and the Canaanite Woman was a drawing made to develop a composition and at this stage Rembrandt was not engaged in details. Arrangement of the figures and their interaction were his immediate concerns; he did not intend this sketch to be a finished piece. Instead, it was a study that was drawn rapidly and loosely in a method known as “gesture drawing.”

As is typical for “preparation drawings,” Rembrandt reworked the sketch and edited it; white pigment was used to cover areas in order to make changes. The drawing was likely a preliminary study for an etching but Rembrandt did not develop it further. It was not used for either an etching or a painting. The reason for not following through could be because Rembrandt had other work that took precedence or perhaps the composition was not resolved to his satisfaction.


Canaan and Phoenicia: The ancient land of Canaan was known as “Phoenicia” to the Greeks. Both names mean the color “purple” which is in reference to the dye that was obtained from the gland of a mollusk – a murex – found there in the Mediterranean waters and harvested. The purple dye was so rare and costly that only the very wealthy could afford it; hence, purple became known as the color of royalty. The color purple’s association with royalty is one of the reasons it has been the traditional color for the church season of Advent. A trend in recent years has been instead to use the color blue for Advent and to use purple for the season of Lent.

Tyre and Sidon: These two cities are in modern day Lebanon and have been renamed: Tyre now is called, “Sour,” and Sidon is called, “Saida.”

Drawing Ink: Rembrandt’s brown ink was made from tannic acid, derived from oak gall, mixed with ferrous sulfate and water. Artists mixed their own inks and often there were differences from one batch to another. This has enabled analysts to examine some of Rembrandt’s drawings to determine which lines were drawn first and which were made later as he reworked a composition.

© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Passover / The Christ from the Vision of Ezekiel | Art for A Proper 18

Exodus 12:1-14 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

(b. 1548, Venezia, d. 1628, Venezia)
Oil on canvas, 140 x 235 cm
San Giacomo dall’Orio, VeniceClick image for more information.
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Ezekiel 33:7 You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

The Christ from the Vision of Ezekiel
The Christ from the Vision of Ezekiel
c. 1130
Mural painting
Convent Frauenwörth, Frauenchiemsee
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