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. However, they have inspired a few outstanding examples.
Konrad Witz, Apparition of Christ in Galilee
Swiss, 1443
Geneva, Musee d'Art et d'Histoire

In two of these, painted 450 years apart, Jesus stands on the shore. In the painting by Konrad Witz (1443), 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.

James Tissot, Christ Appearing in Galilee
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
In the late 1880s the French painter, James Tissot, produced a huge number of watercolor paintings of the Bible that are now in the Brooklyn Museum. Among them are two that illustrate the passage from John that begins this article. The first is very similar in composition to the painting by Witz. Jesus 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.

In both pictures the figure of Jesus stands out boldly against the background as large areas of a single color in a multi-colored composition. Witz’ figure wears a red cloak and Tissot’s wears white. In each composition we see the figure from behind and at an angle.

James Tissot, Christ Sharing Breakfast with the Apostles in Galilee
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
Tissot’s series also includes an illustration of the scene that follows, the breakfast on the beach. 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.