|Christ at Emmaus|
from a Picture Bible
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5,
he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying,
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
(Luke 24:30-35) Gospel for Third Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2011
As discussed in my previous post, images from the journey are scarce, but images of the moment of recognition at the dining table (what came to be called “The Supper at Emmaus”), are numerous and often the work of great painters.
|Albrecht Durer, Christ at Emmaus|
from Small Passion, 1510
The French Bible presents the story in its raw essentials. Jesus is depicted seated at the table, between the two disciples, in the act of breaking bread. All three sit on the same side of the table.
The space in Dürer’s image is no more defined than it is in the manuscript painting. But the figures have been rearranged so that the disciples sit at right angles to Christ and the rules of perspective have been applied to the table and the figures. A third figure, presumably the innkeeper, has been added and there is more food on the table. Christ is still shown literally breaking the bread.
|Jacopo Pontormo, Christ at Emmaus|
Florence, Uffizi Gallery
More importantly, Christ is shown not actually breaking the bread but apparently blessing it. This gesture would be the one that future works would use most often.
Pontormo has also added a pair of cats and a small dog at the bottom of the picture. One cat peers out from under the chair of the disciple in green, while the puppy and the other cat appear at the extreme left of the bottom of the picture. All the animals look outwards from the picture, at us, and thus draw us into the picture as witnesses also. (The eye in a triangle, a symbol for the presence of God may not be original to the picture, but may have been added later.)
|Caravaggio, Christ at Emmaus|
London, National Gallery
Moreover, the gestures of Christ and the reaction of the disciples suggest that the reference to “the breaking of the bread” as more than a reference to a Biblical quotation or to a simple act. They suggest, in fact, a reference to the Eucharist. In pictorial terms they are saying that the Eucharist is the place where we recognize the Risen Lord. Indeed, Caravaggio made this quite explicit in his painting. By juxtaposing the bread of the disciples with the basket of fruit and its very prominent bunch of grapes, Caravaggio is highlighting two traditional symbols for the Eucharist -- bread and grapes. The dramatic blessing gesture of Christ also suggests the moment of Consecration in the Mass.
|Rembrandt, Christ at Emmaus|
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Also affected were Velazquez and Philippe de Champaigne.
|Velazquez, Christ at Emmaus|
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
|Philippe de Champaigne, Christ at Emmaus|
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Rembrandt and Velazquez present the scene in its essentials. Their somewhat otherworldly Christs merely break the bread, as in the early versions of the scene.
In Champaigne's painting, Christ is recognized in the act of offering a piece of broken bread to one of the disciples. Champaigne also includes more local color, two attendants, a view of landscape and even a grey tabby cat who is shown trying to get his paws on some of the meat from the table.