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.

Note

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.
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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Icon of James the Just, Art for B Proper 17

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Icon of James the Just
Icon of James the Just
unknown artist

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

(Previous post September 2, 2012)

Surnames often are the result of physical characteristics, occupations, places of origin, and family connections. Names such as Johnson or Peterson require no explanation and we are familiar with “Mac” (son of) in Irish names and “von” (meaning from) in German names. Yet, “last names” as we know them today were not widely used until the modern era. In biblical days, American architect Philip Johnson (designer of the Crystal Cathedral), would have been known as Philip the son of John. In times when people were given a single name, an identifying designator often was necessary to differentiate one person from another. Among the disciples was Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot. Two disciples were named James; James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus. At times, a person was given several different identifying descriptions.

Although one of the brothers of Jesus also was named James, the exact nature of his kinship has been debated; it has been said he was a step brother, half brother, or cousin. He was not a participant apparently in Jesus’ ministry and it is likely he was not sure of Jesus’ divine nature. Upon seeing Jesus after the resurrection, however, James was convinced. As Bishop of Jerusalem he helped spread the Christian faith and became known as, “James of Jerusalem.” Because he spent so much time in prayer, it was said his knees were hard like those of a camel; thus he was known as “James the Righteous.” He is known more often as, “James the Just” because of the great respect for his wisdom.

Though highly respected in many quarters, James was not appreciated by the high priest of Jerusalem. His martyrdom took place when he was asked by Ananias to denounce Jesus from atop the temple. James went up but instead of cooperating, he began preaching the gospel. For this, he was shoved off and hurt critically but was still alive. As he prayed to ask forgiveness for those who tried to kill him he was stoned and then a man with a fuller’s club hit him on the head and he died. He was buried near the Temple.

Images of Mary, Jesus, and the apostles began appearing very early in church history and it was believed some were of miraculous origin. Icons were used particularly in worship by Orthodox Christians but during the eighth and ninth century a segment of the Church regarded them to be “graven images.” The Church defended the use of icons and pointed to the belief that Jesus himself pressed a cloth to his face and produced an image. In icons of James the Just, he is depicted in his linen bishop’s vestments wearing a long beard (it was reported he never wore wool and never cut his beard) and he is shown holding a book of his writings. Often he is depicted with a fuller’s club, the stick used as he was being killed. Neither the artist nor the date (possibly 12th century) of the image shown above is known. Except for a few notable exceptions, painters of icons worked anonymously.

Note

Icon: The term is from the Greek word eikon meaning likeness or image.
Fuller’s club: This stick is used to beat clothes when they are being washed.

St. Luke as Icon Painter: There is a tradition that Luke painted an icon of Mary as well as images of Peter and Paul. St. Thomas Christians of India lay claim to still having an icon of Mary that was painted by Luke and taken to India by Thomas himself. In illuminated manuscripts, St. Luke sometimes is shown at an easel but there is no evidence to support the tradition that he was an artist.
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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Transportation of the Ark of the Covenant Containing the Tablets of the Law, Art for B Proper 16

1 Kings 8:[11] [And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.]

Transportation of the Ark
Ademollo, Luigi
(b. 1764, Milano, d. 1849, Firenze)

Transportation of the Ark of the Covenant Containing the Tablets of the Law
1816
Fresco
Room of the Ark, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

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Note: This depicts an earlier transport of the Arc to Jerusalem not today’s reading of bringing the Arc to Solomon’s Temple.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Previous post August 26, 2012

In the early eighteenth century baroque art gave way to a lighter, more delicate version called rococo (from the French: rocaille – shell-work, pebble-work). Rococo tended to be ornate, frivolous, florid, and was associated with court life in France; it also tended to reflect the gap between the working class and the wealthy elite. Social differences were among factors that led ultimately to the French Revolution at the latter part of the century.

At mid eighteenth century the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii brought renewed interest in the life of ancient Romans and elements of classicism began to reappear in art. While Napoleon Bonaparte was in the military, he admired and identified with Roman courage and after becoming Emperor of France in 1804, he placed artists in key positions to promote and portray traits such as moral strength, honor, and sacrifice for one’s country. Art became serious business; classicism returned and rococo came to an end. During the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century, this latest manifestation of classicism – called “Neoclassicism” – spread throughout Europe and America. The style was not limited to subject matter with moral messages but also included portraiture and other interests.

One of the practitioners of neoclassicism in Italy was Luigi Ademollo. He was born in Milan and received his art training there but while in his mid-twenties, he set out for Rome and then settled in Florence. During, and following the Renaissance, wealthy bankers and commercial traders in Italy built palazzos for themselves and were like princes. Their palaces contained large surface areas and artists, who often were regarded as decorators, received commissions to fill the walls with paintings. Ademollo established a reputation as one of the foremost fresco artists of his time and received commissions for work throughout Italy. In the early nineteenth century he was asked to paint murals for the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The Transportation of the Ark of the Covenant Containing the Tablets of the Law (detail shown above) was painted for its chapel. Ademollo’s mural in its entirety is an extensive painting that seems to have a “cast of thousands.” Some of the people are onlookers and others are part of a long trail that is following the Ark as it is being transported.

The Ark, which in Hebrew means box or chest, was made from acacia wood and covered with gold; it contained the stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. On top of it was the “mercy seat” made of pure gold and on it were two cherubim facing each other; their wings covered the top of the Ark entirely. [In depictions of the Ark by other artists, the cherubim often are sculpted in the round, not in relief as depicted here.] The Ark was not to be touched and, according to instructions, it was to be accompanied by priests and carried with gold covered poles on the shoulders of Levites. A billowing cloud is filling the scene as burning incense is being carried in a large censor while people following the Ark are caught up in the drama of the procession. To the right (not shown in this detail) are a group of men holding an ox that later will be sacrificed.

Note

In this mural the architecture and manner of dress is in keeping with neoclassicism but during the early nineteenth century there were romanticists who were fascinated with North Africa and the exotic Near East. Romanticists often sought drama and action in their subject matter. [The spirit of Romanticism is exemplified in the motion picture, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”] Although Ademollo is called a neoclassicist, “Transportation of the Ark” has elements of romanticism in its dramatic appeal.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Solomon | Art for B Proper 15

1 Kings 3:10-12a It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word.

Solomon
Duccio di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena)
Solomon
1308-11
Tempera on wood, 42,5 x 16 cm
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Previous post August 19, 2012

Duccio’s altarpiece, Maesta (Majesty) painted for the Cathedral of Siena in the early fourteenth century, was composed of a large panel of the Madonna and child surrounded by a host of saints and angels. In its original form, this main panel was part of an assemblage that included many smaller paintings. Above the central painting were eight crowning panels depicting scenes pertaining to Mary’s death. Below the central panel was a row of thirteen small paintings that made up a predella (Italian: kneeling stool); this served as a base or plinth. The Maesta was the first known altarpiece with a predella and this addition became a form used by subsequent artists. On the reverse side of the main panel there were originally forty-three smaller paintings representing events in Christ’s life.

The scenes in Duccio’s predella illustrate The Annunciation and events in Christ’s infancy and youth but they are not in chronological order. Each scene is approximately square in shape and each except the last one is followed immediately by a panel that is the same height but half as wide containing an image of an Old Testament prophet holding a scroll. The prophet’s words on the scroll are interpreted as foretelling the New Testament event that is pictured in the preceding scene. The scenes and accompanying prophets of the Maesta predella, from left to right, are as follows:

Annunciation: The Prophet Isaiah (7:14)
Birth of Christ: The Prophet Ezekiel (44:2)
Adoration of the Magi: The Prophet Solomon (shown above).

In the scene of the “Adoration,” three Magi, along with two horses and four men, have arrived to see the Messiah. Two camel heads can be seen in the background, thus indicating they are from the East, and a star is above the grotto where Mary sits with the infant Jesus in her lap. Two of the Magi, wearing crowns and holding gifts, are standing while the third one with his crown on his arm is kneeling as he kisses the foot of the child, Jesus. [Artists often borrow an image if it fits their need (Picasso said “What I see, I steal”). For the basis of his kneeling Magus, Duccio used the image of the kneeling king in Nicola Pisano’s sculpture of the baptistery pulpit at the Cathedral of Pisa]

The panel to the immediate right of the Adoration of the Magi is the lone figure of Solomon, standing with a scroll on which is written a passage from the Book of Psalms; “The kings of Tarshish and the islands shall bring presents: the kings of the Arabs and of Sheba shall offer gifts” (Psalm 72:10).

Presentation in the Temple: The Prophet Malachi (3:1)
Massacre of the Innocents: The Prophet Jeremiah (31:15)
Flight into Egypt: The Prophet Hosea (11:1)
Christ Disputing with the Scribes (not accompanied by a prophet)

The figures of the prophets are small but, as seen in “Solomon,” they stand solemnly and with dignity. It is believed the statues on the facade of the Cathedral of Siena were used as models for each of the prophets.

During the eight hundred years since the Maesta was painted, both time and human actions have taken a toll. In 1711, it was decided to take apart the altarpiece and divide the sections between the two altars of the cathedral. During this process, severe damage was caused. After it was taken apart, several sections were taken to museums and others were misplaced and are missing. A major restoration was done from 1953-1958 at which time it was discovered that part of the damage to Mary and Jesus was caused by nails being driven into their faces in order to hang rosaries.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

David mourns Absalom | Art for B Proper 14

2 Samuel 18:33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

David mourns Absalom
David mourns Absalom
Marc Chagall
1931-39
Etching

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Previous post July 29, 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.

Note

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.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Nathan rebukes David for his adultery | Art for B Proper 13

2 Samuel 12:7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

Nathan rebukes David for his adultery
Nathan rebukes David for his adultery
Copper engraving
Luiken, Caspar
(Dutch, 1672-1708)
Published 1712

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Previous post July 29, 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: “David Playing the Harp before Saul | Art for B Proper 7.”]

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Bathsheba Goes to King David | Art for B Proper 12

2 Samuel 11:4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him…

Bathsheba Goes to King David
Cecchino del Salvatti
(b. 1510, Firenze, d. 1563, Roma)
Bathsheba Goes to King David
1552-54
Fresco
Palazzo Sacchetti, Rome
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Previous post 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 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.

Note

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.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

The Peretola Tabernacle | Art for B Proper 11

2 Samuel 7:4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

The Peretola Tabernacle
Luca della Robbia
(b. 1399/1400, Firenze, d. 1482, Firenze)
The Peretola Tabernacle
1441-43
Marble, bronze and glazed terracotta, 260 x 122 cm
Santa Maria, Peretola

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Previous post July 22, 2012)

During his lifetime, Luca della Robbia was said to be among the finest artists of the early Renaissance. Critics continue to hold him in high regard but they are mixed in their appraisal. It is believed he could have grown much more as a sculptor if he had worked only in stone or bronze. Yet his relief work in terra cotta was of such remarkable quality that his name and fame has been linked with it forever. In his “Tabernacle,” della Robbia includes terra cotta alongside marble and bronze, and the figures are surrounded by an architectural frame that is carved in relief and is part of the sculpture itself. The subject of each section is part of the overall trinity theme.

The uppermost section is a pediment in marble with a figure of God the Father being represented as an old man with a long beard. He is giving a blessing with his right hand while his left hand is holding a tablet with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; a reference to a statement in the Book of Revelation (22:13), “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The central section of the tabernacle is a lamentation in a lunette made of terra cotta. The figures include an angel with an anguished expression holding up the figure of the crucified Christ. His grieving mother, Mary, is on the left side and St. John with his head bowed is on the right. At the time this sculpture was commissioned, della Robbia had been experimenting with clay and glazes and this tabernacle is the first piece in which he used glazed terra cotta. Even after being fired, terra cotta is not as dense as marble; the white glaze that della Robbia formulated and used extensively added hardness to its the surface. He often used blue glaze as a background for the white figures.

The lower section of the sculpture is carved in marble and contains two bronze elements within it. The dove, representing the Holy Spirit, was cast in bronze by della Robbia himself. It is surrounded by a laurel wreath that is being held at the top and bottom by an angel on each side. Under the arms of the two angels is a bronze door to the locked tabernacle where the consecrated wine is kept. From a compositional standpoint, the bronze door at this location seems out of place and it is speculated a white door was there originally; this would have allowed the dove to be a central focal point as seems to have been the intent. The door was changed to its present form in the eighteenth century. The relief on the bronze door depicts a standing Christ holding a cross in his left arm. On the floor is a large chalice to receive blood being shed from his right hand.

Note

Terra cotta (Italian for “cooked earth”): This is red clay that is hardened by firing in a kiln. It is also used for bricks, pavers, and flower pots.

Relief Sculpture: This is the term for sculpture that is not “in the round.” It is raised from a surface (like a relief map) and usually attached to a wall. Three types of relief are: Bas relief (low): Sculpture that is raised from a surface but not very much. [Bas is pronounced “bah.”] Metzo relief (middle): Sculpture that is raised from a surface but not high. Alto relief (high): Sculpture that is elevated from the surface and, at times, almost in the round. [In music the terms bas(s), metzo and alto are used also. Since “alto” means high it may seem odd that in music it refers to the low female voice. This comes from a time when choirs were all male; “alto” was the high male voice. When women began singing in choirs, the ones with lower voices sang the “alto” part.]

Pediment: This is a gable formed when two roofs meet. In Greek and Roman temples, this triangular area was filled with relief sculpture.

Lunette: In architecture, a semicircular opening or surface as under an arch.

Lamentation: This is an expanded version of a pieta (Italian for “pity”). In a pieta, only the crucified Christ and his mother Mary are depicted; in a “lamentation,” additional figures are included.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

The Ecstasy of St. Paul | Art for B Proper 9

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know;

The Ecstasy of St Paul
POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)
The Ecstasy of St Paul
1649-50
Oil on canvas, 148 x 120 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Previous post July 4, 2012)

At the end of the fifteenth century, Renaissance artists had opened the way for an expansion of ideas but the direction art would take was not clear until the latter part of the century that followed. Whereas Renaissance artists retained a connection to classicism, the art that began in the late sixteenth century and lasted until mid-eighteenth century – referred to collectively as “Baroque” – moved beyond classicism into an area of drama and fantasy. During this time the boundaries of art were pushed and the classical images of the Renaissance gave way to exuberant and ornate forms. Often painting, architecture and sculpture were coordinated for dramatic effects that tended to overwhelm the senses. It was a time when technical difficulties did not stand in the way of artists. Light and shadow, perspective, foreshortening, and virtually all other problems dealing with the creation of an illusion of three dimensions on a surface had been overcome. Artists could give free reign to their ideas and imagination.

In 1624, Nicolas Poussin, left Paris to settle in Rome and through his work became the most renowned French artist of the seventeenth century. In subject matter, he became attracted to mythological as well as real life heroes of ancient Rome and although it was a time when art tended to be full of unbridled activity, his work tended to be restrained; his working methods were deliberate. When asked about his well thought out compositions, he said, “I am forced by my nature towards the orderly.” During the mid-1630s, in addition to painting subjects from mythology and history, Poussin turned his attention to subjects from the Bible.

In The Ecstasy of St. Paul, Poussin depicts Paul being escorted by three angels as he starts his journey heavenward. The lead angel is pointing the way. In organizing this composition, Poussin was faced with a problem of how to deal with so many arms, legs, and angel’s wings. He resolved the problem by having some of the limbs out of sight and connecting others by touch. Paul, in the center of what seems to be an entangled scene, is in a laid-back position with arms raised. The angel on the left has a hand under the knee of his right leg. The angel on the right, whose face is in shadow, has a hand on the ankle of Paul’s left leg. The uppermost angel is touching his left hand lightly as if to guide him upward but no real lifting is being done. The angels are there primarily to accompany Paul while a sweeping landscape and billowing clouds serve as a backdrop. Below them are the symbols associated with Paul; a book that represents the word of God and a sword. The sword indicates he was at one time a persecutor of the Church and then, after his conversion, took up the Sword of the Spirit; the bound book refers to his epistles.

Note

“Baroque” first came into use as a somewhat derisive term. It was used in France to mean something unusual, bizarre, or even poorly made, but the source of the word is unclear. It may have come from the Spanish word berrucco for an irregular (uncultured) pearl or from the Portuguese barroco for hilly or uneven ground. The root of these words may be from the Latin verruca meaning a slight flaw. In view of the turning, undulating, and convoluted shapes found in a great deal of Baroque art, any of these suggested origins are plausible.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Christ Resurrects the Daughter of Jairus | Art for B Proper 8

Mark 5:41. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”

Christ Resurrects the Daughter of Jairus
OVERBECK, Friedrich
(b. 1789, Lübeck, d. 1869, Roma)
Christ Resurrects the Daughter of Jairus
1815
Pen with black ink over pencil, watercolour, 307 x 373 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

(Post from July 1, 2012)

In the early nineteenth century there were two, often opposing, stylistic directions in art; Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Neoclassicists turned to the works of the Greeks, Romans, and the Renaissance as the basis for their work and made art an intellectual pursuit. It was the official art of the academies in France but the romanticists of this time preferred to follow their hearts and often painted subjects having dramatic content. Friedrich Overbeck was born in Germany where a tendency toward romanticism was strong. As a mature painter his subjects were usually Biblical and like the romanticists, they contained emotional content but he lived in Rome and as seen in Christ Resurrects the Daughter of Jairus, he was influenced greatly by the classicism found in Renaissance painting.

As a young man, Overbeck studied art at the Vienna Academy and it was during this time that he recognized his desire to bring a spiritual quality back into art. In 1909, while still a student, he and others of likeminded values founded a group called, “The Brotherhood of Saint Luke,” and imagined being like medieval guild painters. A year later he and his friends went to Rome where they decided to live in a former monastery and remain somewhat in seclusion like monks. They were joined by several other German artists who shared Overbeck’s desire for spirituality in art. Because they affected Biblical manners in their clothes and hair styles, they soon were dubbed, “Nazarenes.” Rome became Overbeck’s adopted home and he lived there for the remainder of his life.

Overbeck had long admired the work of Albrecht Durer and when he arrived in Rome he studied the works of Raphael as well. The influence of both of these artists is evident in Christ Resurrects the Daughter of Jairus. The robes are very much in the style of Raphael and, in the tableau-like dramatic setting and composition it has elements in common with Durer’s woodcuts. Overbeck’s subject for this painting (which is primarily a drawing with added watercolors) is based on accounts in the Gospels in which a patron of the synagogue, Jairus, asks Jesus to come to heal his dying daughter. By the time Jesus was asked, however, his daughter may have been already dead. When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ home, a wailing crowed was there and they laughed when they were told the girl is not dead but asleep. Jesus sent them out and took the girl’s hand saying, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” Overbeck’s painting depicts the moment when the girl rises up in bed looking pale and gaunt. Her eyes are still closed.

In this painting, the figure of Christ gets our attention immediately; he is in a dark blue robe and placed in the center of the painting. The figure of Christ also serves as a visual barrier that keeps our focus on the left half of the painting where the miraculous event is occurring. Jesus is holding the girl’s hand and at the same time he is looking directly at her face. Behind the girl with his hands clasped is Jairus and off to the right and away from the immediate action is a passive group of figures that came with Jesus; they are waiting quietly as Christ takes the girl’s hand and asks her to get up. Farther back are figures leaving as they exit through an arched opening; it is likely these are the last of the people told by Jesus to leave. Like the neoclassicists, Overbeck has kept his composition cool and uncluttered; our eyes move to different areas of this painting with ease but we always return to the interaction between Jesus and the girl.

This exceptionally well-balanced composition does not break new ground in art, yet in Overbeck’s painting there is subdued color that gives it serenity. It gives us a story without overwhelming us with details. There is a sense that he wanted to depict this event simply and honestly without taking attention away from it with excessive visual effects.
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Commentary © 2012 Hovak Najarian