Art of the Gospels, Part 7: Jesus’ Ministry Around Galilee

P1080716Jesus had defied physics before, commanding the storm to calm a few episodes back. Two events in this section of Jesus’ ministry should make for great paintings, but I could not find any in the books I have for Rome: The Feeding of the Five Thousand, and Jesus Walking on Water. Oh, well, I’ll have to leave those up to your imagination. The other two events that I did find images for are metaphysical events: Jesus naming Peter as the Rock of his church, handing him the keys to the kingdom; and, the Transfiguration.

P1080713While Jesus has resorted to telling parables to conceal the meaning of his messages from those who were hostile toward him, he also spoke directly in symbolic terms. In Matthew (16:13-20) he talks with Peter, instructing him to become the leader of his ministry after he is gone. In this he foretells Peter that he will become the rock on which his church will be built. And, he tells him that he will have the keys to kingdom of heaven.

P1080720 P1080718

Pietro Perugino’s painting, in the Sistine Chapel, sets Jesus and Peter central in an Italian Renaissance plaza.  Other disciples (and patrons) flank them in lines on either side.  Rather than the Rock and Keys being figures of speak, Jesus literally hands Peter a set of keys.  The architectural features on the horizon are a central baptistry or church, and two triumphal arches, built of stone.  These are copies of the Arch of Constantine, the 4th century Roman Empiror who would embrace Christianity.  The church building reiterates the location of the “rock”.  The triumphal arches draw upon the Roman tradition of kings returning to Rome after conquests.

In the background groups of people appears to be running about.  On closer inspection, one scene is Jesus discussing whether to pay taxes to Rome, “Give unto Cesear…”; and the other scene is of Jesus being attacked by mob, attempting to stone him.  Formation of the church would not be peaceful or easy.  Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death would be necessary for the church to be more than a band of fanatics and a charismatic leader.

P1080262If you are a sci-fi fan, the Transfiguration is right out of some Star Trek episode: Levitation, beans of light, sudden appearance of deceased prophets. How did they think this up before computer generated animation, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? I’m sure that Isaac Asimov liked this section.

Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration, in the Vatican shows us the moment when Jesus levitates from the top of the mountain with Moses and Elijah .  Several of Jesus’ disciples and followers stand below, in the shadows of the peak.  Jesus, Moses and Elijah form a triangle above.  The crowd below, with the central man pointing to a child, then a central woman looking at a man sitting on the ground, form a second triangle in the crowd.  The child, and several other men in the crowd, point up to Jesus, connecting the two triangles.  All of these geometric forms point at the light, which surrounds Jesus.

These lighter than air images foretell of Jesus’ crucifixion, with Jesus’ arms out-stretched form a cross along with two others on his right and left, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven, in which the laws of physics cannot explain, any more than his miracles.  From this point, Jesus’ messianic ministry will be in full swing, with Jesus’ message turning to prophecies of the near future (Passion Week events) and distance future (End Times stuff).

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to Art of the Gospels, Part 7: Jesus’ Ministry Around Galilee

  1. jane arney says:

    Nicely done!! I love the way Perugino is showing off with his use of the newly developed single-point perspective techniques by drawing all those orthogonal lines, and also making the far background hazy with atmospheric perspective. The arch of Constantine also shows the link between the Pope and the Roman emperor who established Christianity as the official religion of the empire. The octagonal building is supposed to be the Temple of Solomon, done in Renaissance style. Three other frescoes by Perugino in the Sistine Chapel were unfortunately destroyed to make way for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. I appreciate that you include so much of the theological messages of these paintings!!

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I remember learning about orthogonal perspective in my Renaissance art history classes in college (minor area of study). Of course, it all made sense to me, because I had learned drafting in 7th grade shope class. Though not part of my series, Botticelli use those orthagonal lines cleaverly to point our eyes toward key elements in alegorical scenes. Sneaky guy. As to the Popes and Roman Emperiors, the Arch of Constantine is a great symbol. It’s builders litterally re-purposed parts of other art works (I think the medalians come from a monument to Trajan, at least) onto the arch, just as the church re-purposed holy sights, building techniques (basillica became churches), art forms, and rituals. Hey, Sinfield was great because he understood Dick van Dyke who understood Buster Keaton….

      • jane arney says:

        My specialty is ancient Greek and Roman art (I’m working on my PhD) so I’m totes familiar with Constantine’s arch. Earlier scholars used to think that people in late antiquity had lost artistic skills and that was why Constantine reused bits from previous eras, or what we call spolia. Now, of course, we realize that this appropriation was carefully orchestrated to convey Constantine’s associations with the “Good Emperors” of Rome. BTW, the medallions are actually Hadrian’s. Here’s a chart of what’s whose: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Constantine_arch_datation_en.svg
        Wikipedia has a decent article on it too, though it still includes the ‘lack of artistic ability’ reason that has been pretty much discounted now.

      • hermitsdoor says:

        Excellent! You can be my copy editor for art facts. My approach is less studious, and I will confess, less vigilent on fact-checking, though I do acknowledge that I often write from what I think I remember… or worse yet, use my own interpretations, which could well be without substantiation. I have a number of friends who know more than I about history and politics. They regularly set me straight when I make false pronouncements. I look forward to future comments.

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