Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath | Art for Proper 5C

Border with Elijah Raising the Son of the Widow of Sareptha
Border with Elijah Raising the Son of the Widow of Sareptha
Simon Bening
Flemish, Bruges, about 1525 – 1530
Tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
6 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.
MS. LUDWIG IX 19, FOL. 70
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Elijah Raising the Son of the Widow of Zarephath (Painted border), Tempera, gold paint, gold leaf and ink on parchment, c.1525-1530, Simon Bening, 1483-1561

During the Middle Ages, hand made devotional books with text and illuminations were particularly popular in Northern Europe. They contained prayers and biblical passages for use in daily worship and were small in size in order to be carried easily. Often they included a calendar that made note of saints’ days and religious feasts. Flemish artist Simon Bening’s finest work was found in his books of hours (containing the seven canonical prayers of the Church). In them, he included many paintings depicting people at work in labors associated with the seasons. They often were in landscape settings.

In the early sixteenth century, the Renaissance was well established in Italy but in Northern Europe, Gothic influences were still lingering. Yet, change was taking place and although the use of devotional books was declining, Bening’s reputation was well established. An art critic of the time referred to him as the greatest master of illumination in all of Europe. Although his work was in demand, they were not created for the men of the fields. His commissions came from aristocrats and the very wealthy. Among them were the royalty of Spain, Portugal, and Germany. These commissions enabled him to enrich his paintings with the finest of materials including gold leaf and vellum. Today his books are placed in museums.

Although the widow of Zarephath was blessed to have Elijah staying at her home, her good fortune turned to grief when her son became ill and died. Elijah took the dead child to his upper room and placed him on the bed; he then cried out, “O Lord my God, let this child’s soul come into to him again.” God answered Elijah’s prayers and the child returned to life. Upon seeing her son alive again the widow said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17: 21-24). Simon Bening’s painting is a border around a text on the subject of the power of Christ. “Elijah Raising the Son of the Widow of Zarephath” is on the opposite side of a page depicting the raising of Lazarus; thus a connection is being made between Old and New Testament events.

We are familiar with creative license such as changes and modifications in motion picture biographies. Changes are made in art as well and a common practice is to move the location of an event to a familiar setting. Instead of the widow’s son being taken to an upper bedroom where he is restored to life, Bening places the three principal participants in a peaceful landscape. The widow’s child, like a small lifeless doll, is lying on the ground while she kneels beside it. Elijah stands in prayer. The narrative continues on the right side where we see the widow departing with her son who is now alive and well.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Christ Taking Leave of His Mother | Art for B Proper 5

Mark 3:33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg) Life of the Virgin: 16. Christ Taking Leave of his Mother
c. 1505
Woodcut
Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna

Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Post from June 10, 2012)

During the Renaissance, the German artist Albrecht Durer was the most acclaimed printmaker of Northern Europe and his well deserved reputation can be seen in two notable series of woodcuts. Both of them include the theme of Christ saying farewell to his mother before leaving for the events awaiting him during the Passion. The first series called Life of the Virgin was started in 1501 but not completed until after he returned from an extended visit to Italy. A second series called The Small Passion was started after his return to Germany.

In his woodcuts, Durer deals with a wide range of emotional moments; sometimes there are elements of joy, as in Christ Entry into Jerusalem, yet often there are sorrowful events such as the Crucifixion. Durer used Biblical accounts usually for the subject of his woodcuts but many activities in the life of Christ, as well as in his family and disciples, were not recorded in the scriptures. When direct accounts are not available, artists, novelists, and dramatists often turn to their imagination or go to other sources as they try to depict how events might have occurred.

During the thirteenth and early fourteenth century there was much devotional material written but the exact authorship was not always known. Many works that were at one time attributed incorrectly to St. Bonaventura now are called generally, Pseudo-Bonaventura. Durer’s source for Christ Taking Leave of His Mother is from one of the most popular of these works; “Meditations on the Life of Christ.” The thought of Christ’s farewell is emotionally heart wrenching, especially in view of the fate awaiting him in the days that were to come. This subject received much attention from artists in Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and numerous variations of this theme were painted.

In Christ Taking Leave of His Mother (from the Life of the Virgin), Durer lays out the composition in three divisions. Mary is on the left side seated on the edge of a covered porch; her dress is crumpled, her face shows sorrow, and her hands are clasped below her chin. Two women, also with sorrowful expressions, are standing behind her and are part of this group. Christ, near center and a few feet away to the right of them, raises his hand to bless his mother. Two strong vertical elements, the post of the porch and a dead tree suggesting gloom, serve to frame him and at the same time they tend to visually separate him from his mother and the two women. As our attention moves to the right beyond the figure of Jesus we see a third division; open space and a road that will lead Christ to the world beyond. On the road at mid-distance are the disciples waiting for Jesus to join them. In the background, looming over this sorrowful farewell – and possibly intending to suggest the presence and weight of the physical world – is a huge fortress-like cluster of buildings that is based probably on buildings in Nuremberg during Durer’s time.

This woodcut is not quite nine by twelve inches in size; about the size of a standard sheet of notebook paper. Yet Durer filled it with an incredible amount of detail. He presents the primary action in the foreground and then takes us back convincingly into an illusion of very deep space. Durer was a master of black and white values and he skillfully created “gray” tones; even though there are no actual gray tones in this print. The entire surface of the woodblock is of a “yes-no” nature. That is, the surface of the block is either all cut away (to give the white areas) or left uncut (for the dark lines). The various degrees of gray values are achieved by how near or apart the cuts are made to each other.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

B Proper 5, Art for June 10, 2012

DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Life of the Virgin: 16. Christ Taking Leave of his Mother
c. 1505
Woodcut
Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Woodcut series: Life of the Virgin (1511)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art directory for this series.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, 1505, Woodcut, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 5, Art for June 10, 2012

During the Renaissance, the German artist Albrecht Durer was the most acclaimed printmaker of Northern Europe and his well deserved reputation can be seen in two notable series of woodcuts. Both of them include the theme of Christ saying farewell to his mother before leaving for the events awaiting him during the Passion. The first series called Life of the Virgin was started in 1501 but not completed until after he returned from an extended visit to Italy. A second series called The Small Passion was started after his return to Germany.

In his woodcuts, Durer deals with a wide range of emotional moments; sometimes there are elements of joy, as in Christ Entry into Jerusalem, yet often there are sorrowful events such as the Crucifixion. Durer used Biblical accounts usually for the subject of his woodcuts but many activities in the life of Christ, as well as in his family and disciples, were not recorded in the scriptures. When direct accounts are not available, artists, novelists, and dramatists often turn to their imagination or go to other sources as they try to depict how events might have occurred.

During the thirteenth and early fourteenth century there was much devotional material written but the exact authorship was not always known. Many works that were at one time attributed incorrectly to St. Bonaventura now are called generally, Pseudo-Bonaventura. Durer’s source for Christ Taking Leave of His Mother is from one of the most popular of these works; “Meditations on the Life of Christ.” The thought of Christ’s farewell is emotionally heart wrenching, especially in view of the fate awaiting him in the days that were to come. This subject received much attention from artists in Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and numerous variations of this theme were painted.

In Christ Taking Leave of His Mother (from the Life of the Virgin), Durer lays out the composition in three divisions. Mary is on the left side seated on the edge of a covered porch; her dress is crumpled, her face shows sorrow, and her hands are clasped below her chin. Two women, also with sorrowful expressions, are standing behind her and are part of this group. Christ, near center and a few feet away to the right of them, raises his hand to bless his mother. Two strong vertical elements, the post of the porch and a dead tree suggesting gloom, serve to frame him and at the same time they tend to visually separate him from his mother and the two women. As our attention moves to the right beyond the figure of Jesus we see a third division; open space and a road that will lead Christ to the world beyond. On the road at mid-distance are the disciples waiting for Jesus to join them. In the background, looming over this sorrowful farewell – and possibly intending to suggest the presence and weight of the physical world – is a huge fortress-like cluster of buildings that is based probably on buildings in Nuremberg during Durer’s time.

This woodcut is not quite nine by twelve inches in size; about the size of a standard sheet of notebook paper. Yet Durer filled it with an incredible amount of detail. He presents the primary action in the foreground and then takes us back convincingly into an illusion of very deep space. Durer was a master of black and white values and he skillfully created “gray” tones; even though there are no actual gray tones in this print. The entire surface of the woodblock is of a “yes-no” nature. That is, the surface of the block is either all cut away (to give the white areas) or left uncut (for the dark lines). The various degrees of gray values are achieved by how near or apart the cuts are made to each other.

______________

© 2012 Hovak Najarian