Wednesday, May 5, 2010
This particular painting has been a bit of an inspiration at times. After spending a period of time in Jerusalem in 1890, a young painter named Herbert Gustave Schmalz produced a series of New Testament art. During his journey he kept a series of sketches portraying scenes from the New Testament that were then later published in an Art Journal as ‘A Painters Pilgrimage.’ This man, Schmalz, was nothing special in his time. Most would never hear of his work, but one particular piece, ‘Return From Calvary,’ is still inspiring today.
Schmalz did not seem to be a very religious man as far as could be seen. And due to his lack of fame it is quite hard to really know much of anything about him. He happens to be quite a boring study really. He was just an artist trying to make a living as far as the Internet portrays him. It took several Google searches just to find a bio. His life may not have been the most exciting thing to study, but some of his work is beautiful. His sketches are rather easy to find and are somewhat popular among art lovers. But, as for most people, he will never have his own Wikipedia page, or be brought up in discussion of famous religious art.
If Schmalz was no one special why would someone choose one of his works to be presented? The answer is quite simple really: his work is one of the most encouraging things to look at for one who wishes to examine and believe the New Testament. In “Return From Calvary” Schmalz portrays one of the last scenes to take place in the Gospel of John. This scene is not written in the Gospel, but is most definitely a possible look into the reality of the situation.
The artistic mechanics are very basic. There are three layers to the picture. The first shows Mary, the mother of Jesus, weeping her way up the steps of Jerusalem along with Mary Magdalene and John the Disciple. The second layer shows to other women looking off into the distance at three crosses on Golgotha where Jesus is hanging. The Third layer shows a dark storm about to take place, but in it is a hint of bright light coming forth. The light coming is a sign of things to come. Mechanically the picture is nothing special or provocative. Its simplicity makes it beautiful.
The focal point of this picture (this writer does not actually know how to determine a focal point) is not the cross or the light coming from the sky. It isn’t Mary or the ladies weeping in the background. No, this entire painting revolves around the expression on John’s face. In order to understand what he is thinking one needs to look into the events leading up to this point.
In just a short period of time before the events of this painting would take place, how many days is unknown, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the sound of praise. The disciples must have thought that moment was the moment of glory. They must have thought that the kingdom was most definitely coming and that this Jesus was to be the king. People shouted as he rode in on the donkey, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13) That scene must of have been brilliant. People laid down branches from palm trees and bowed before the Lord as he entered the city. Yet, somehow, only days later, Jesus is suddenly hanging from a tree outside the city with the very same people rejoicing in his crucifixion. How can this be? That very question is very possibly what keeps flowing the John’s mind at this moment. He saw this God-man, Jesus the Christ, raise people from the dead and do miracles no man had ever done, and now he is hanging from a tree with criminals on his left and right side. What good could come of this?
As John heard from the Lord, “Woman, behold your, son!” and, “Behold, your mother!” John then took the Lords mother as if she was his own and, in this portrayal, walks her home. Many readers of the Bible find themselves in the look on John’s face at one time or another. If one wants to believe what the Bible says they will come to a point where they ask, “How can this be?” That is another thought most likely strolling across John’s mind at this moment. He is looking off in the distance at that cross and wondering what happened to his Lord. Why is he not king? Though many modern people think they may know what John didn’t, the reality is that they are probably just as much familiar with the working of the cross as John was in this moment. What John did not know about Jesus kingdom was that it was one of righteousness. And since no one in existence, except Jesus, has ever been righteous since the fall, something had to be done in order for people to enter that kingdom. Because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s Glory and his angry wrath must fall down on that unrighteousness. And so we have in this scene the eternal wrath of God being poured out on his son in the place of those who would believe on him. God took the cup men deserved and poured it out on His own self. If one attempts to stand before the reality of this they will find themselves in the same kind of trembling fear that John seems to be in. They will not know what to say. Honestly the only response, for those who would believe, will be, “Thank you Lord!” And for most the response will be in disgust. For they do not want God, nor would they ever have anything to do with something loving enough to die for them. They continue in the fall attempting to reject God’s grace in a wish that they might be God. Only to find, in the end, complete destruction on one’s own eternal cross.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
This painting started by Lucas Cranach the Elder who died in 1553 and finished by his son Lucas Cranach the Younger in 1555 is one of the best examples of the ideas and beliefs of the Lutheran Reformation. The painting’s focus is to demonstrate the transition and movement from the old covenant to the new covenant through the death of Jesus Christ for all mankind. Another objective of this painting was to distinguish the Reformation’s focus of God’s grace from the Catholic Church’s focus of the sacraments. This painting is one of the best examples of the Reformation’s core driving beliefs that fueled the protestant movement.
Lucas Cranach the Elder was a faithful supporter and believer in the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation in the 16th century. He wanted to paint a work of art the stood above the alter, to remind those taking communion that the focus is not on the sacrament but on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The painting to this day stands over the alter, at the St. Peter and Paul Church in Weimer, Germany. The painting shows the dichotomous relationship between the Law and Gospel in the Bible. The point of representing both the Law and Gospel was to show the focus used to be on the old covenant of the Law but after Jesus sacrifice is now on the Gospel and the new covenant. This focus on the new covenant and the Gospel was the heart and driving force of the Reformation.
Two prevalent stories from the Old Testament, the snake on the cross and Moses with the Ten Commandments, are shown in this painting. Moses and the prophets of old testified that those who were not able to uphold the laws of God and the Ten Commandments would be condemned to hell. This condemnation is shown with the figure of a man being driven into the fires of hell by death, the skeleton, and the devil, the monster with a club. The covenant of old in Moses days was one of works to try and uphold the law. The other scene from the snake on the cross was from an Old Testament story were snakes were sent by God into the camp of the Israelites. The snakes killed many people and in order for those bitten to be saved from death they had to look upon the snake on the cross which Moses had set up in the camp. The snake on the cross foreshadowed the coming of Jesus and his death on the cross. Just as the bitten Israelites were saved by looking up at the snake on the cross all people are saved by Jesus death on the cross for the sins of the world.
Towards the forefront of the painting is Jesus on the cross along with Jesus conquering death and the devil on the right of the painting with John the Baptist, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Martin Luther on the left. Right underneath the cross is a pure white lamb holding the banner of Jesus with the words “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” John 1:29. The simple message of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb for all whom by his blood we are all saved is the focus of this painting. This theme is also conveyed by the pouring out of Jesus blood from his side onto the head of Lucas Cranach. On the far left is Martin Luther who is positioned like Moses but instead of the Ten Commandment he is holding open the Bible with three verses written on it. These three verses are as follows: “The blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from all sin” 1 John 1:7, “Therefore let us approach the seat of grace with joyousness, so that we may receive mercy within and find grace in the time when help is needed” Hebrews 4:16, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so also must the Son of man be lifted up, so that all who believe in him may have eternal life” John 3:14. These passages from the New Testament testify to the fact of the new covenants replacement of the old through Jesus death on the Cross.
I believe this painting is a significantly clear statement of the Reformation’s focus on the grace of Jesus death on the cross. It is by his death alone that the sins of all mankind were forgiven and for that unconditional loving act we should be joyous. Jesus is focusing on the viewers of this painting inviting them to believe in him and what he has done for us sinners. Cranach’s feet point towards Jesus signifying his importance yet looking at us again as an invitation to Jesus. The focus is simply that Jesus death fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament. He fulfilled all the requirements of the old covenant and created the new covenant in him, through which all are saved by his grace.
• Noble, Bonnie. "Chapter 4 - Holy Visions and Pious Testimony: Weimar Altarpiece." Lucas Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Reformation. Lanham, Md.: University of America, 2009. 139-49. Print.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
New Testament in Art: Weimer Altarpiece
The Weimer Altarpiece is a painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger, son of the famous Lucas Cranach the Elder, whose works revolve around religion and mythological paintings. Both the Elder and the Younger are noted for their emphasis on the Lutheran Reformation and protestant focused religious portraits and scenes. However the current piece is one of the Elder’s much more traditional paintings and was actually finished by the Younger in 1555. Both the Younger and the Elder had a strong bias against what they perceived to be dogmatic catholic traditions and thus this particular piece was intended to shift the focus of the altar away from the sacrament and towards the sacrifice. The piece emphasizes the gift of Jesus as the center of the people’s worship. The painting currently resides in the St. Peter and Paul Chruch in Weimar Germany and (as indicated by its title) is placed directly above the altar so all who receive communion would appreciate the gravity of the sacrifice.
The painting itself is broken into a number of contrasting scenes which drive the focus from Old Testament to New Testament themes. This dichotomy is used to emphasize the progressive nature of the Reformation and aligns the Lutheran ideals with the New Covenant.
First and foremost, the center piece is a large picture of Jesus death on the cross. It dominates the frame and puts his sacrifice above all other elements of the piece. His side is pierced and blood is flowing onto the head of one of three men standing to the right of him. The blood represents his sacrifice and the movement onto the head of one of the onlookers indicates how believers are washed with the blood of Jesus.
Something interesting to note is the contrasting scene in the background. Above the heads of the three men, there is a group of tents with a snake on a cross-like beam. It’s a scene from Numbers 21:6-10 where people afflicted with a snake bite would look at the image and be healed. In a similar fashion, believers stand before the Christ and are “healed” by his sacrifice. In both instances, some disease was beaten by an emblem on a cross. The artists are portraying Jesus as an evolution of the “snake on a cross” concept.
Above and to the left of the snake scene, is a group of shepherds being addressed by an angel who is holding the words (very difficult to read but put in by the artist) “Glory to God in the Highest” as a reference to Jesus birth in Luke 2:14. In the forefront and to the far left is the open tomb of Jesus, indicating the fulfilled sacrifice. The tree growing on top of the tomb suggests that stone cold “death” of Jesus leads to new life as the tree grows towards the heavens.
Then, to the left of the cross, is a small picture of a man being chased by a skeleton and a beast wielding a club. The beast is intended to be Satan and the skeleton represents Death. Man is shown running away from Satan only to be confronted with Death and forced into the fires of Hell to the left. It exemplifies the hopelessness of mankind. But then in the left forefront, the figure of Jesus is wrapped in a cloth and is standing over both Death and Satan. He has emerged from the tomb behind him and has triumphed over mankind’s greatest adversaries. Again, this focuses on how Jesus sacrifice changed the people’s connection with sin and death.
Finally, the three men up front are contrasted to the group of men behind them. From left to right is John the Baptist, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Martin Luther. In back is Moses with the Ten Commandments and a group of Israelites. While Moses gave the people the Law, the men up front are demonstrating the change with the gift of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist is explaining to Cranach the Elder what the blood on his head means while Cranach the Elder is supposed to represents all believers. Martin Luther is then supporting the words of John the Baptist through two verses, John 1:7 and Hebrews 4:16, which declare the purifying blood of Jesus as the mercy and grace to help the people “approach the seat of grace”.
John the Baptist is also making a connection between Jesus and the Lamb through his hand gestures. The Lamb is holding a banner which reads in Latin “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of world” (John 1:29). John’s relation of the two suggest Jesus is that Lamb. This once again furthers the connection between Jesus and the gift of his sacrifice.
Also, it’s important to note that both Jesus and Lucas Cranach the Elder are looking at the audience. The eyes of Jesus are intended to invite the audience to believe in his sacrifice, since he defeated Death and Satan for the people. Cranach the Elder’s eyes serve as his confession, saying this is what he believes.
The whole piece then is essentially an argument for the power and gravity of Jesus’ sacrifice. It contrasts doctrine from both the Old and New Testament through related scenes and uses two prominent front figures to directly connect with the audience and emphasize the gift of Jesus death.
Noble, Bonnie. "Chapter 4 - Holy Visions and Pious Testimony:Weimar Altarpiece." Lucas
Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Reformation. Lanham, Md.: University of America, 2009. 139-49. Print.