Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Return From Calvary
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.