Friday, May 27, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – The Commission of the Apostles

Central Panel From a Christian Sarcophagus
Roman, mid-4th Century
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani
The Gospel of Matthew jumps from the Resurrection directly to this scene, on a mountain in Galilee.

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."  
(Matthew 28:16-20)

The so-called “longer ending” of Mark’s Gospel presents the commission for the future to the Apostles as having come during one of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus “as the eleven were at table” (Mark 16:14):
He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Mark 16:15-16)

Both texts instruct the Apostles to do two things: go out to convert the world and to baptize those who believe. Matthew adds the now familiar formula for baptism: “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

In the early centuries of Christian iconography, this was known as the “traditio legis”. It is a scene well-known from early Christian times through the Middle Ages, but seems to have disappeared from the iconography of later times.

Traditio legis translates as “the giving of the law”. In the case of Christianity it refers to the instruction of Jesus to the Apostles, which is the subject of the quotation from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark cited above.

The most famous early Christian appearance of the traditio legis is on the central panel of the upper row of scenes from the life of Christ on the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, now in the Vatican.

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
Roman, 359
Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, Treasury


Central panel from Upper Level of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
Roman, 359
Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, Treasury

The sarcophagus dates from the mid-fourth century (359), just a few decades from Constantine’s proclamation of the Edict of Milan, which made Christian practice legal. Prior to that time, Christian practice was illegal, sometimes tolerated, sometimes persecuted. With Constantine’s edict, subsequent adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire, and his building of the great basilicas in Rome and Jerusalem, we begin to see Christian art emerge from the shadow of the catacombs.

The initial images clearly derive from Imperial imagery. The specific image is that of the Emperor as lawgiver. Christ appears seated on a stool with lion feet, raised on a small platform, just as the Emperor would have sat on a raised throne stool. On either side are Apostles, who receive a scroll of the law, just as members of the Emperor’s court would have appeared on a non-Christian imperial Roman monument. At Christ’s feet appears a Roman sky god (indicated by his billowing sail/dome, a representation of the sky). This little detail shows that bits of Roman iconography remained even after the adoption of Christianity. Christ appears as a young, beardless man, as was common during the early Christian period. The more mature, bearded Christ that is familiar to us developed much later.

One such Imperial image can be found in the silver Missorium of Theodosius I.  Created in 388 it shows the Emperor seated on his throne. with his two co-emperors and guards on either side.  Below him is the figure of Mother Earth, no longer a goddess figure, since Theodosius was a Christian, but now a symbolic one.  Like the sky god, figures like Mother Earth remained acceptable as symbolic representations of the elements in Christian iconography for many centuries.
Silver Plate (Missorium) of Theodosius I
Roman, 388
Madrid, Academia Real de la Historia

Quite a number of sarcophagi with representations of the traditio legis were made during the fourth and fifth centuries. While researching this article I was actually surprised by how many there are. In addition, it appeared in other forms of art as, for example, in the beautiful fourth-century mosaics found at Santa Pudenziana in Rome or in the St. Aquilino Chapel at San Lorenzo in Milan.

Apse Mosaic, Traditio Legis
Roman, Late 4th Century (with later reworkings)
Rome,  Church of Santa Pudenziana
Mosaic, Traditio Legis
Roman, Late 4th Century
Milan, Chruch of San Lorenzo, Sant' Aquilino Chapel


However, following the barbarian take over of the Western Roman Empire the use of the image tapers off. It persists, however, transformed into the familiar image of the Last Judgment seen from the facades of the great Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals to the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Gislebertus, Tympanum
French, 1125-1136
Autun, Cathedral of San Lazare
In these images, Christ sits enthroned, surrounded by the court of heaven as He delivers judgment.

There are few images from later eras that can be identified as relating to these texts. One important one is part of the Maestà altarpiece of Duccio, painted between 1308 and 1311 for the Cathedral (Duomo) of Siena. What identifies this scene with the texts, especially with the text of Matthew, is the obvious mountaintop setting of the scene and the location of this panel on the Maestà itself.

Duccio
Panel from the Maesta
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
Jesus stands to one side and slightly elevated by the slab of rock on which He stands, already somewhat apart from the Apostles. They, the eleven, stand in three rows facing Him, listening to His words. Peter, shown with his traditional white hair, round face and beard, John, the beardless youth are readily identifiable in the first row.

This image is derived less from the image of the Emperor as lawgiver, than from another type of Imperial image, the Emperor addressing his troops.  Probably the most famous image of this type is that of the "Augustus Prima Porta".  This early first century image of the first emperor, Octavian, known as Augustus, shows the Emperor, dressed in splendid armor, his right hand raised and finger pointing the way to the enemy.  Excavated in 1863 from the ruins of the home of Augustus' widow, Livia, the statue is now in the Vatican Museums.

Augustus of Prima Porta
Roman, 15-20 AD,
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani



The standing posture and the references back to a theme of exhortation of troops gives more urgency to the scene, consistent with the opening words “Go, therefore, and make disciples”. This creates a more dynamic iconography than the “traditio legis”.   As the Emperor once sent forth his troops to conquer the world for Rome, the Risen Jesus sends forth His Apostles, the future bishops, to conquer the world for God. 

















© M. Duffy, 2011          

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – Commission to Peter – The Good Shepherd Transfers Responsibility

GianLorenzo Bernini, Feed My Sheep
Bronze back panel from Cathedra Petri
Italian,
Vatican, St.  Peter's Basilica



“After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."

John 21:15-17


Immediately following the mysterious breakfast on the shore of Galilee the Gospel of John presents us with this dialogue between the Risen Jesus and Peter. From the narrative it appears that the two are still in the presence of the other disciples named in the same chapter of John. What is this passage doing?

First, the three times repeated question “Do you love me?” and Peter’s three replies “ Lord, you know that I love you” are intended to erase Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday “I do not know the man”.

Then, the responses of Jesus: “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep” represent a handing over to Peter of the role of Good Shepherd spelled out in John 10. Peter is now to be the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:2), the sheepgate (John 10:7) and the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Like Matthew 16: 15-19 this passage seems to confirm Peter’s leadership of the Apostles and of the early church.

It is, therefore, surprising that very few works of art have focused on this scene, even among those commissioned by the Popes. Instead, most pictures, like the Sistine Chapel fresco by Perugino below) have focused on the text in Matthew:

“He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-19)

Pietro Perugino, Keys of the Kingdom
Italian, 1481-1482
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
Perhaps the lack of images of the shepherding commission may be due to the fact that the scene seems less dramatic and the images less powerful than that of the rock, the keys, the gates of hell and the binding and loosing. Yet, one could argue that the commission as Shepherd is at least as important and definitive, as that as the Rock and the Keeper of the Keys. It is the role of Guardian and Leader exercised by Peter and his successors.

In 1515 Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to prepare drawings for a series of tapestries to be displayed in the Sistine Chapel. The tapestries were commissioned to hang below the already existing frescoes in the Chapel, among them the Perugino above. They were planned to cover up what the painted images of hanging draperies that form the lowest register of the Sistine Chapel walls.
Raphael, Tapestries in situ, 2010
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
Part of the process of tapestry design was for the artist to create a full-sized tinted drawing, known as a cartoon, to guide the Belgian weavers who would produce the tapestries. These full scale drawings are now in the British Royal Collection and have been on permanent loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London since 1865. They were recently (September 8 – October 17, 2010) shown, together with the tapestries woven from them, when the tapestries were loaned to the V and A by the Vatican Museums. This was the first time that the drawings had been seen together with the completed tapestries since they were woven in the years between 1516 and 15211. As with all tapestries weaving took place from behind, so that the cartoons and the finished tapestries are mirror images of each other. 
Raphael, "Feed My Sheep" Cartoon
Italian, 1515
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
Raphael, "Feed My Sheep" Tapestry
Flemish, 1516-1521
Vatican, Pinacoteca
In the composition of the Commission to Peter the two principal figures are seen to the side of the composition, Christ standing and gesturing to both the sheep and the kneeling figure of Peter, who holds the keys, symbolic of the text from Matthew. The other ten Apostles fill the other side of the composition. In the forefront of the group one can clearly see St. John with his traditionally beardless face and flowing hair. This emphasizes his role as eyewitness. The entire scene is set in a tranquil, lakeside landscape.

The tapestry displayed in situ in
the Sistine Chapel
The work is so majestic that one might almost say it was definitive. Very few other interpretations of the scene have been done and none have the scale or breadth of Raphael’s.

Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1613-1615
London, Wallace Collection




In Rubens interpretation the background details have been eliminated and all the elements have been reduced. There are only two sheep and three additional Apostles (once again St. John is prominent). The figures are shown as half lengths and there is no background. All attention is drawn to the brightly lit figure of the Risen Lord, to His gestures and to Peter’s loving response. In addition, the subjects of the care of the flock and the giving of the keys have been conflated into a single image. So, we are seeing a composite of the texts of Matthew (keys) and John (sheep).


Claude Vignon, Christ Instructs St. Peter to Feed His Sheep
French, 1624
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum









Ten years after the Rubens was painted, the French painter Claude Vignon tackled the subject.  Vignon places the scene before s ledge or altar of some kind on which a book is placed.  On its open pages are Christ's words in the dialogue:  "Petre amas me" (Peter, do you love me?) on the left page and "Pasce oves meas" (Feed my sheep) on the right page.  Christ points to the book as He asks the questions.  The figure of Peter gives the answers with great intensity.  His outstretched left hand reaches across the body of Jesus, while his right is placed on his own chest to indicate the force of his sincerity.  There are no sheep in evidence nor any keys and only two other apostles, one of whom is only half in the picture.




In the mid seventeenth century Gianlorenzo Bernini produced two remarkable works on this subject for the one place on earth where they have particular meaning, not just as a record and reminder of a Biblical passage, but as a living command for Peter's successor, the Pope.  In 1646 Bernini carved the marble panel for the central doorway of St. Peter's Basilica with the subject of the Pasce oves meas.
Gianlorenzo Bernini, Pasce Oves Meas
Italian, 1646
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica
The relief has all the grandeur of Raphael's image, including the outdoor setting, the number of apostles shown, the gestures of Christ and St. Peter and several sheep.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Back Panel of Chair of Peter
Italian, 1656-1666
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica





Ten years later Bernini repeated the subject for the back of one of the most important works he ever did, the amazing Chair of Peter, which forms the focal point of the entire basilica.2   In spite of this work being in a different medium (cast bronze instead of marble), Bernini manages to include most of the same details: trees, sheep, an additional apostle, but he throws in a few angels as well.







James Tissot, Feed My Sheep
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum





In the late 1880s the French painter, James Tissot, began a huge number of watercolor paintings of the New Testament that are now in the Brooklyn Museum.  His interpretation focuses more on Peter’s responses than on the possible significance of the scene. There are no sheep in evidence, merely the other Apostles, who follow at a small distance, and the rocky shore. It is the gestures of Peter and Jesus that set the tone and evoke the words of John’s Gospel. The potential significance of the words and scene are not in evidence.





  1. For this event see: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/eventi-e-novita/iniziative/Eventi/2010/gli-arazzi-di-raffaello-in-sistina.html
  2.  See:  http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2013/03/sede-vacante-empty-chair.html




© M. Duffy, 2011, revised 2017




Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peace, Slowly Dropping – An Historic Visit

Queen Elizabeth and President Mary McAleese leave the wreath laying
at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin
Photo:  Time
As I have mentioned in previous postings, I am the child of Irish parents, parents born, not as citizens of a free Republic of Ireland, but as the subjects of British sovereigns. From an early age I have come to know and to love the country of my ancestors. And, with my own intense interest in the past, I have come to know and to understand the often painful history of that country.

In recent decades I have personally lived through a few of the episodes of recent Anglo-Irish history. I was in Ireland on August 9, 1971, the day on which internment was imposed on Northern Ireland and over three hundred individuals were taken into custody. I saw the reactions of my mother and her siblings, who had lived through the war for independence in the period 1919-1922. It was as if they were reliving an old nightmare. I was in London on July 17, 1974 when members of the IRA set off bombs in the Tower of London, killing one person and injuring 41 others. I heard and saw the ambulances racing through the streets and thanked God that my mother and I had chosen to take a tour of Hampton Court that day instead of the visit to the Tower that we had originally planned. I was in Ireland many times during the 1980s and 1990s when the news from over the border in Northern Ireland was of daily reprisal killings and the weight of sorrow from the North often threatened to drown the peaceful Republic in despair.

I have no romantic illusions about the often dreadful costs of this old conflict. And, like so many Irish people, I have English relatives. My “English” cousins are as thoroughly English as I am American and yet, we are the children of a brother and sister. The ties are tight and deep.


Oisin Kelly, Children of Lir
Dublin, Garden of Remembrance
So, it is with intense interest and not a little emotion that I have followed via RTE (the Irish TV network) the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic of Ireland. I have watched in a kind of daze of wonder at a British sovereign laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin because that garden honors all those who fought the Crown in the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867, 1916, 1919-1922. Many of them were executed or exiled by the Crown as a result.  The garden's signature sculpture, “The Children of Lir” by Oisin Kelly, is a visual metaphor for the transformation of Ireland from colony to independent state. (A detailed examination of the history of the monument may be found at http://www.ucd.ie/gsi/pdf/34-2/sack-2.pdf

It was also moving to see the Queen and Prince Philip visiting the grounds of Croke Park, where 14 spectators at a Gaelic football match were killed by British troops on November 21, 1920 in reprisal for the assassinations of the so-called “Cairo Gang” of British agents earlier that same day, an event that forms the nucleus of Neil Jordan’s movie “Michael Collins”.

Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, Co. Dublin
(Photo: Irish Heritage)





And it was good to see both the Queen and President McAleese lay symbolically crafted memorial wreaths at the beautiful gardens, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, at Islandbridge, Co. Dublin.


Photo:  Irish Times







The gardens were planned as a memorial to the Irish soldiers who gave their lives for Britain in World War I, the last war in which Ireland was still a colony of Britain.   The Queen’s wreath was composed of red poppies, a flower symbolic of both the First World War and the color associated with England. President McAleese’s wreath was of green laurels, symbolic of victory and service, and the color traditionally associated with Ireland.

But it was the speeches given by both women at the state dinner on the evening of May 18th that really caused the tears to well up. Both acknowledged the painful presence of the past that have shadowed the visit and given it its depth. Both noted the historic and the human ways in which both islands have intertwined. But both also looked forward to the future when a new relationship can be forged between these two sister islands.

Photo: RTE
The most touching aspect of their speeches is that both spoke of the heartbreak and loss from personal experience, a fact often forgotten. Mrs. McAleese, born in Northern Ireland, was forced out of her home during the “Troubles” of the 1970s. The Queen has suffered personal loss as well. Her cousin, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was also Prince Philip’s uncle, was assassinated by the Provisional IRA while on a visit to the Republic in August 1979.

Quotes from both speeches are:

President McAleese (full text here):

“This visit is a culmination of the success of the Peace Process. It is an acknowledgment that while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future….

The two way flow of people between these islands goes back millennia. This very room is dedicated to St Patrick, whose name is synonymous with Ireland. Yet he is reputed to have been born in Britain. Patrick’s life as the man who brought Christianity to Ireland is illustrative of the considerable exchange of ideas and knowledge that there has been between our two nations throughout history....

It is only right that on this historic visit we should reflect on the difficult centuries which have brought us to this point. Inevitably where there are the colonisers and the colonised, the past is a repository of sources of bitter division. The harsh facts cannot be altered nor loss nor grief erased but with time and generosity, interpretations and perspectives can soften and open up space for new accommodations….

W.B. Yeats once wrote in another context that “peace comes dropping slow.”
The journey to peace has been cruelly slow and arduous but it has taken us to a place where hope thrives and the past no longer threatens to overwhelm our present and our future….”

Queen Elizabeth (full text here):

Madam President, speaking here in Dublin Castle it is impossible to ignore the weight of history, as it was yesterday when you and I laid wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance.

Indeed, so much of this visit reminds us of the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions, but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation. Of being able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it.

Of course, the relationship has not always been straightforward; nor has the record over the centuries been entirely benign. It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss.

These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all....

There are other stories written daily across these islands which do not find their voice in solemn pages of history books, or newspaper headlines, but which are at the heart of our shared narrative. Many British families have members who live in this country, as many Irish families have close relatives in the United Kingdom.

These families share the two islands; they have visited each other and have come home to each other over the years. They are the ordinary people who yearned for the peace and understanding we now have between our two nations and between the communities within those two nations; a living testament to how much in common we have.

These ties of family, friendship and affection are our most precious resource. They are the lifeblood of the partnership across these islands, a golden thread that runs through all our joint successes so far, and all we will go on to achieve.

They are a reminder that we have much to do together to build a future for all our grandchildren: the kind of future our grandparents could only dream of….”

May God grant that the hopes expressed by these two women, who have both suffered personal loss from the history of which they spoke, may come to fruition in the future. For, if these two islands, so deeply and sorrowfully intertwined these 800+ years, can overcome the conflict, the pain and the resentments of that past, surely there is hope for the conflicts of the present.

© M. Duffy, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – The Lake of Galilee – The Disciples Go Fishing

Jesus Appears in Galilee
from the Drogo Sacramentary
French (Metz), 9th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9428, fol. 65v
After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you."
So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No."
So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught."
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

John 21:1-14

Of all the apparitions of Jesus in the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension, this is both one of the most mysterious and one of the most real. It takes place in a familiar location, the Sea of Galilee, where so much of Jesus’ ministry had taken place, the area that was home for most of the disciples.

The scene opens with the disciples, returned from Jerusalem, following Peter’s lead “I am going fishing”. After an unproductive night, as they return to harbor, they see a figure on the shore, probably indistinct in the early morning light. He instructs them to cast their nets again and they make a huge catch. In the catch they recognize a situation they have experienced once before (Luke 5:4-11) and they realize that the figure on the shore is the same person that had been with them then. When they arrive on shore they find that He has prepared breakfast for them and He feeds them.

The setting on the shore of the great lake, the misty morning light, the catch, the recognition of the Risen One, the sharing of bread and fish, recalling both the miraculous feeding of the multitudes and the Last Supper combine to create the mysterious reality of this apparition. Ghosts may appear, but they don’t cook and share meals with their friends.

It is surprising, then, that these verses have not inspired more works of art. One of the aspects of this passage, which may have caused difficulties for artists and their advisors is how to distinguish this scene from other, very similar, scenes, i.e., the miraculous draught of fish associated with the calling of the apostles or the scene in which Peter leaves the boat and attempts to walk on water.  The differences between these scenes and that of the post-Resurrection encounter described by John are sometimes subtle.

Among the elements that hint at the post-Resurrection scene are:  Jesus stands on the shore, not on the water, the sea is calm and not stormy (although this is not always so), Peter jumps into the water when the boat is near the shore, there are often elements of the meal Jesus invites the apostles to somewhere in the picture.

Michiel van der Borch, Miraculous Draught of Fish
Rhimebible by Jacob van Maerlant
Dutch (Utrecht), 1332
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS RMMW 10 B 21, fol. 151r

Lluis Borrassa, Peter Reaches Christ on the Shore
Spanish (Catalan), 1411-13
Catalonia, Terrasa_Sant Pere
The Risen Jesus Appears on the Sea of Galilee
Chronicle of the Kings of England from William the Conqueror
to Henry IV
English, c. 1430-1440
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 75 A 2-4, fol. 62v














The images on the left above and the image above that are still somewhat ambiguous, although they do show Jesus to be standing on the shore, as Peter walks through the shallow water and are, therefore, most probably illustrations of John 21.  However, the image on the right is definitely an illustration of the passage.  Not only is the Risen Jesus standing on the shore as Peter comes through the water, but in the right background one can see Jesus and the Apostles gathered around a fire cooking.


Konrad Witz, Apparition of Christ in Galilee
Swiss, 1443
Geneva, Musee d'Art et d'Histoire
In the painting by Konrad Witz, originally in Geneva’s St. Peter’s Cathedral and now in the Geneva Museé d’Art et d’Histoire, we see the moment when Peter swims to shore, as the other disciples maneuver the boat and the catch behind him. In the background, we see the neat landscape imagined by Witz for the shores of Galilee, probably based on medieval Geneva itself. Originally in the cathedral, it was removed when Geneva officially adopted Calvinism in 1535.


Master of the Harley Froissart
Christ Appearing to the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee
from Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
Flemish, 1470-1479
London, British Library
MS Royal 15 D I, fol. 368
Attributed to Colijn de Coter
Christ Appearing to the Apostles
on the Sea of Galilee

Flemish, c. 1500
Autun, Musee Rolin

























In the sixteenth century many artists created works that more effectively distinguish this scene from the other, earlier events.

Anonymous, The Risen Christ Appearing to the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee
French or Flemish, 16th Century
Abbeville, Musee Boucher de Perthes
The anonymous French or Flemish artist who painted this picture handled the subtleties of the scene by including several successive scenes in one composition.  In the middle distance we see the Apostles out on the sea fishing.  At the left front they have arrived in port and are greeted by Jesus.  At the right Peter kneels to adore the Risen Jesus and in front of them is a grill with two fish cooking.

Herri met de Bles, Final Apparition of Christ to His Disciples
Flemish, c. 1530-1550
Buenos Aires, Museo nacional de Bellas Artes
In this image by Herri met de Bles the Risen Jesus welcomes Peter to shore as the other Apostles struggle to bring the boat into port.  The figure of Jesus is definitely attired as the Risen Jesus.  He is nude to the waist and the wound on His side and right hand are obvious.  He also carries the Resurrection banner, by then a conventional part of Resurrection iconography.  In the background, just above the head of St. Peter we can see the group, gathered around a fire, at the entrance of a cave.
Joachim Beuckelaer, The Risen Christ Appears to the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee
Dutch, 1563
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Joachim Beuckelaer made a career out of painting still lives and market and kitchen scenes, some of which have a Biblical scene positioned in the background.  He uses a similar arrangement here, showing us the busy trade of the fishing port in the foreground with boats being unloaded, fish sold, bargaining going on.  Meanwhile, in the background, Peter walks through the sea to meet Jesus, who waits onshore.  And, farther in the background, Jesus and the Apostles sit at a table while two fish are cooking on an open fire.

Maerten van Heemskerck, The Risen Christ Appears to the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee
Flemish, 1567
Barnard Castle (County Durham, UK), The Bowes Museum
Maerten van Heemskerck puts his knowledge of ancient buildings to use in this broad view of the event.  From what appears to be a high view of the region we can see not just the lake but the buildings and ruins that grace its shores.  And, from a distance, we can see Jesus waiting as Peter walks through the sea and the other Apostles continue working on the boat.  There is no fire here, but next to Jesus is the symbol of the fish, similar to those used by the early Christians as a covert sign of the faith.  Early Christian sites were being excavated for the first time in centuries at Rome during the sixteenth century and it is probably that Heemskerck could have become acquainted with them during the time he spent there.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Christ at the Sea of Galilee_
talian, c. 1575-1580
Washington, National Gallery of Art
At first, this beautiful painting by Tintoretto might seem to be somewhat ambiguous regarding just which incident is being depicted.  However, although no evidence of a meal in preparation is visible, the proximity of Peter to the shore and the fact that Jesus is standing on the shore and not on the water suggest that this if depicting the event in the Gospel of John.

The Grabenberger Brothers (Michael Christoph, Johann Bernhard and Michael Georg), Christ Appearing at the Sea of Galilee
German, 1682-1683
Garsten (AU), Parish Church of the Assumption
This image, part of the decoration of the former Garsten Abbey church, includes all the elements of the story from John 21.  Jesus stands on the shore, summoning the Apostles.  Behind Him are fish and bread, ready for breakfast.  Peter strides through the water, while behind him the other Apostles struggle to bring in their full nets.

Sebastiano Ricci, Christ Appearing to the Apostles at the Sea of Galilee
Italian, c. 1695-1697
Detroit, Institute of Arts
There is no evidence for a meal in preparation in this painting by Sebastiano Ricci, but various other elements suggest that it illustrates John 21.  Jesus stands on the seashore with a radiance surrounding His head that suggests that this is a post-Resurrection event.  Also, the boat is not far from shore. Some on board struggle to bring in the catch, while others point excitedly to Jesus and Peter slogs through the shallow water.

In the late 1880s the French painter, James Tissot, began a huge number of watercolor paintings of the New Testament that are now in the Brooklyn Museum1. Among them are several that illustrate the passage from John 21.
James Tissot, Jesus Appears on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
The first is very similar in composition to the painting by Witz and Tintoretto. Jesus, seen from behind, stands on the seashore, calling to the disciples who are on the lake. Behind him is a fire, planted amid stones. Again we see the shores of the lake. But, where Witz used his own imagination and the landscape of Switzerland to create his setting, Tissot had actually spent time in the Holy Land and gives us a vision of what the scene might really have looked like.
James Tissot, St. Peter Alerted by St. John to the Presence of the Lord Casts Himself into the Water
French, 1888-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
James Tissot, Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Tissot’s series also includes an illustration of the scenes that follow, Peter's jump into the water and the breakfast on the beach. The latter makes explicit the scenes that earlier painters had sent to the background.  Set in the same cove as the first illustration the disciples sit in a semi-circle in front of Jesus, their backs to the sea and their beached boats.  Jesus tends the fire and a roasting fish Himself. But, in keeping with the mystery of His Resurrection, we do not see His face in either picture.

© M. Duffy, 2011, amended 2017

  1. He also prepared another series of paintings between 1896-1902 of the Old Testament.  These are also in New York, at the Jewish Museum.  These two cycles probably make James Tissot the artist who has most thoroughly illustrated the Bible.  Most interesting is that Tissot spent considerable time in the Holy Land during the years in which he was working on these series.  At this time the area was still largely untouched by the changes of the modern world.  However, considerable archaeological activity had taken place to unearth at least some of the material culture of Biblical times.  For these reasons they are probably as close as can be imagined to illustrating the world of the Bible as it was.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Good Shepherd Sunday – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, I Am the Sheepgate
Engraved by Philips Galle
Flemish, 1565
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Each year the Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Easter is text extracted from John Chapter 10, no matter which cycle we are in, hence the name “Good Shepherd Sunday”. This year (Cycle A) the Gospel is John 10:1-10:

"Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian images and one of the most popular.
Moschophoros
Archaic Greek, c. 560 BC
Athens, Acropolis Museum

Early Christian images were often symbolic and less specifically set in the “here and now” than later Christian images. Partly this was due to the need to be discreet in a world where Christians were often viewed with suspicion at best and persecuted even to death at worst. The image summoned up by the words of Jesus, what the quotation from John above calls “this figure of speech” may have become so popular in the early Christian world because it blended seamlessly into an already existing world of pagan images of shepherd figures, known as kriophoroi. As such, it could easily escape the notice of the Roman authorities during times of persecution.  Not only did this image seamlessly connect to the pre-Christian world it is also such a perfect image of one aspect of the Good Shepherd that it has remained the dominant image ever since.

Images of a male figure carrying a sheep or calf across his shoulders have a long pre-Christian history.  One of the earliest and most famous is the Archaic Greek statue, known as the Moscophoros, dated to 560 BC, which was part of the original decoration of the Parthenon, prior to its destruction by the Persians in 480 BC.  That early statue shows the figure of a man with a calf draped over his shoulders.  It was commissioned as an offering to the goddess Athena, the deity of the Parthenon.


Hermes Kriophoros
Greek, c. Fifth Century BC
Rome, Museo Barracco






In later statues the animal draped over the shoulders was most often a sheep, that is a lamb, ewe or ram.











Usually the Early Christian image of the Good Shepherd took the form of a young, beardless man carrying a sheep or ram across his shoulders and sometimes accompanied by other sheep. Here are some of the images that resulted during the Early Christian period.
Good Shepherd, from the Coemeterium Majus
Roman, 3rd Century
Rome, Coemeterium Majus
This may not be a Christian image.  Since it came from the main cemetery of Rome and not from one of the specifically Christian burial sites, it may be pagan.  However, it is a good example of how ambiguous the image of the "Good Shepherd" was during the years in which the Christian Church was operating virtually in hiding.
Christ the Good Shepherd Under the Guise of Orpheus
Roman, 3rd-4th Century
Rome, Catacomb of Domitilla
We can be more certain of the identification of this image due to its location in a Christian catacomb.  However, there is nothing obviously different from a pagan image of Orpheus, the musician who was renowned for his ability to calm animals with his playing.
Christ as the Good Shepherd
Roman, c. 250-300
Rome, Catacomb of Saint Callixtus
Christ as the Good Shepherd,
Roman, 3rd Century
Rome, Catacomb of Priscilla

























Christ as the Good Shepherd
Roman, 3rd Century
Rome, Catacomb of Domitilla
Good Shepherd
Roman (Syria or Palestine), 3rd c.
Jerusalem, Rockefeller Archeological Museum
Good Shepherd
Roman (Asia Minor), 280-290
Cleveland, Museum of Art


























Sarcophagus with the Good Shepherd
Roman, 270-300
Vatican, Museo Pio-Cristiano

The Good Shepherd
Roman, Late 3rd-Beginning 4th Century
Vatican, Museo Pio Cristiano
Fragment of a Sarc
phagus with the Good Shepherd
Roman, 300-325_Vatican, Museo Pio-Cristiano


























Front of the Sarcophagus of a Child with the Good Shepherd
Roman, Beginning of the 4th Century
Vatican, Museo Pio-Cristiano
Sarcophagus of Livia Primitiva
Roman, Beginning of 4th Century
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Glass Chalice with the Good Shepherd
Egyptian (Alexandria), 2nd through 4th Centuries
Zagreb,Muzaj Mimara
The Good Shepherd
Roman, c. 350-375
Rome, Catacomb of Domitilla
The Good Shepherd Giving the Law to Saints Peter and Paul
Roman, c. 350
Rome, Santa Costanza

Santa Costanza was originally built as a mausoleum for Constantine's daughters and we can see that, with the acceptance of Christianity as the religion of the Imperial family, the need for discretion was gone and the true identity of the Good Shepherd could be made known.  In this image Christ is shown in the posture of the lawgiver who presents the New Law to Saints Peter and Paul and as the Good Shepherd, surrounded by His sheep. That indicator of holiness, the halo, has been added around His head.  At His feet is the flowing water of life.
                                                                       
Front of a Sarcophagus with Christ the Good Shepherd and the Twelve Apostles
Roman, 375-400
Vatican, Museo Pio-Cristiano
Christ, the Good Shepherd
Late Antique, 425-450
Ravenna, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
The image of Orpheus, seated amid his flock has been transfigured in  the beautiful mosaic that decorates the interior of the fifth-century tomb of Galla Placidia, a Roman woman who had played a significant role in the history of the western Empire during the barbarian invasions.  There is absolutely no doubt about the identity of the Shepherd who is crowned with the sign of holiness, the nimbus or halo, and leans on His staff, the sign of the Cross.  This is the Shepherd who not only tends the sheep with love, but who has sacrificed Himself for their sake.

Christ Separating the Sheep and the Goats
Byzantine, 6th Century
Ravenna, Sant Apollinare Nuovo
Part of the job of a shepherd is to protect the sheep in His care.  And this may mean separating them from their competitors, the goats.  In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that, at the end of time, the faithful sheep will be separated from the unfaithful goats.  The sheep will inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God, while the goats will be sent into eternal punishment for the sins they have committed.

I was unable to find images of the Good Shepherd from the centuries of the barbarian invasions and the resulting disintegration of the Roman Empire in Western Europe.  This is not too surprising as these were centuries in which there was great political instability, looting and upheaval, even as the new arrivals settled down into a newly divided Europe.  Such conditions were unlikely to foster a great deal of art or to preserve what is created.  However, there were periods, such as the time of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century, when such images may have been produced.  If I find any I will add them to this essay. For the moment, however, there is a blank space in the narrative.

When it does pick up again, we find ourselves in the Romanesque period, with a capital from the church of Santa Maria la Nuova at Monreale in Sicily.  At this time Sicily was under the control of the Norman dynasty that had ended the Arab occupation of the island in late eleventh century.  Sicily is at a crossroads of travel and commerce in the Mediterranean, heir to the classical past as well as to North African and Byzantine influences.  And, in this capital, we can see a return to the traditional form of the kriophoroi, the figure carrying a sheep across His shoulders.

The Good Shepherd Capital
Italian, 1174-1189
Monreale, Santa Maria la Nuova
This became the dominant form of the Good Shepherd image for the next seven hundred years.  These images should mostly be read as relating to the parable of the lost sheep found in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 15:4-7):
"What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."
The Lost Sheep
from Speculum humanae salvationis
Italian (Bologna), c. 1350-1400
Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 593, fol. 27v
Here Christ bears the lost sheep on His shoulders
and is welcomed by two smiling angels who are
"rejoicing in heaven".  Perspective is still a bit of
a problem for the artist so he shows one angel's 
wings pointing up and the other's pointing down.
The Lost Sheep
German, c. 1376-1400
Stendal, Evanglical Church of Saint James



























The Lost Sheep
German, c. 1390
Soest (Westphalia), Parish Church of Saint Peter
Gold Scrolls Group, The Lost Sheep
from Speculum humanae salvationis
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1440-1460
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 385, fol. 36r



























The Lost Sheep
from Speculum humanae salvationis
Unknown origin, c. 1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9585, fol. 39
The Lost Sheep
German (Middle Rhine), c. 1500
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum


The Good Shepherd
Dutch, c. 1540
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
In this image, the theme of the lost sheep, draped over the
shoulders of the Good Shepherd, is augmented by 
including the scene of the Crucifixion in which the Good 
Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep.
The Good Shepherd
Dutch, c. 1550
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie ser Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
This slightly later image makes the same point.





























Workshop of Maarten de Vos, Lost Sheep
Flemish, c. 1569
Celle, Schlosskapelle
Workshop of Maarten de Vos, The Good Shepherd
Protecting the Sheep
Flemish, c. 1569
Celle, Schlosskapelle























These two images by the workshop of Maarten de Vos represent two aspects of the charge of the Good Shepherd.  He reclaims the lost sheep and protects the flock from predators.  The Lost Sheep panel also ties the image to the Old Testament by including the opening lines of Psalm 23 "The Lord is my shepherd".


Cristobal Garcia Salmeron, The Lost Sheep
Spanish, c. 1660-1665
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Later interpretations include these two closely related images by Philippe de Champaigne and his nephew, Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne.

Philippe de Champaigne, The Lost Sheep
Franco-Flemish, c. 1664
Magny-les-Hameaux, Musee de Port-Royal des Champs
Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, The Lost Sheep
Franco-Flemish, c. 1670
Lille, Palais de Beaux-Arts
























N. Chasteau, The Lost Sheep
from a Prayer Book
French, c. 1700-1750
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 84, fol. 41
Edward Burne-Jones, The Lost Sheep
Design for Window
English, 1857
London, Victoria and Albert Museum





























James Tissot, The Lost Sheep
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum























While the motif of the Lost Sheep, carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, is the most common and longest lived iconographic treatment of the Good Shepherd there are others. Among them are images of the Good Shepherd as leader of His sheep.

The Good Shepherd
from the Sermons of Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), c.1320-1330
Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 187, fol. 14
Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, The Lamb of God as the Good Shepherd
Roman de la Rose_French (Paris), c. 1375-1385
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 132, fol. 142r
In this unusual image the Good Shepherd is Himself a lamb, the Lamb of God, identified by the halo with a cross and the shepherd's staff.  
Hans Bol, The Heavenly Jerusalem, with Christ as the Good Shepherd
Flemish, 1575
London, Courtauld Gallery
Marten van Vlackenborch, The Good Shepherd
Dutch, c. 1580-1590
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Abel Grimmer, The Good Shepherd
Flemish, 1611
Private Collection
Until the seventeenth century the image of the Good Shepherd was presented as guide and defender. However, in the work of Murillo a certain sentimentality began to enter the iconography.  Murillo and his workshop painted a series of pictures in which the Good Shepherd is the infant or child Jesus instead of the adult.  Judging by the copies that are widely distributed in museums this proved a popular subject.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, The Good Shepherd
Spanish, c. 1660
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


Bartolome Esteban Murillo
Spanish, c. 1660
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
This kind of soft-focused treatment infiltrated later images of the adult Good Shepherd as, no doubt did the popularity of the aria "He Shall Feed His Flock Life a Shepherd" from George Freidrich Handel's oratorio "Messiah", which derives from Isaiah, Chapter 40,
"Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care."
 (Isaiah 40:11)
But this is only a small part of Isaiah's words.  The whole of that chapter celebrates the awesome power and majesty of the saving God.  

Unfortunately, this soft focused treatment became the dominant one, beginning with the late seventeenth century.  So that, by the later part of the nineteenth century, images of the Good Shepherd show Jesus cradling the lamb in His arms, rather than continuing the classic stance of carrying it over the shoulders.  The lamb, now not so much retrieved from being lost, as cuddled because of being weak, becomes little more than a prop and a toy.
William Dobson, The Good Shepherd
English, 1868
Sheffield (UK), Museums Sheffield
Frederick James Shields, The Good Shepherd
English, c. 1900
Manchester (UK), Manchester Art Gallery

























Louis Comfort Tiffany, Good Shepherd Window
American, 1909
New York, New York Historical Society
Warner Sallman, The Good Shepherd
American, c. 1946























Images also became softer and "prettier", so soft and pretty in fact that it is difficult to see in them the Good Shepherd who will defend His sheep by laying down His life for them.


© M. Duffy, 2011, revised 2017