Thursday, March 8, 2012

Illustrating the Parables -- The Parable of Dives and Lazarus

Deaths of Lazurus and the Rich Man
From the Hours of Yolande of Soissons
French, 1275-1299
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M729, fol. 381r
"Jesus said to the Pharisees:
"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man's table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.

And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
Abraham replied, 'My child,
remember that you received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.'
He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him
to my father's house,

for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.'
But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.'
He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
Then Abraham said,
'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded
if someone should rise from the dead.'"
(Luke 16:19-31)

The excerpt from Luke that is the Gospel reading for Thursday of the second week of Lent presents the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, a pauper who begged at the rich man’s door. (This poor man should not be confused with the other Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raised from the dead.)
Death of Lazarus While the Rich Man Feasts
France, 1130-1140
Moissac Cathedral, South Portal

In this parable, it seems to me that Jesus, through the Evangelist, is addressing three separate themes:  the importance of charity to the poor; the congruence between the life one lives and the reward for that life; and the difficulty which would be faced by those who spread word of Him and His mission.

In death the rich man and the pauper have outcomes inverse to the lives they lived on earth.  The poor man, neglected in life, is welcomed to Abraham’s bosom (an image of heaven) on account of his actions and patience.  The rich man, who spent his life in fine clothing and self-indulgence, ignoring poor Lazarus whom he could have helped, finds himself in a place of torment. 

His desperate plea for an intervention by Lazarus, aimed at saving his brothers from his own fate, is countered with Abraham’s cynicism, an obvious reference to the reality of Luke’s experience. 
'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded
if someone should rise from the dead.'" 

Not surprisingly, this parable was a favorite Biblical passage during the Middle Ages, an era in which the worlds of rich and poor were closer together than they are in the contemporary West.  It appeared everywhere:
  • in sculpture
Death of the Rich Man
Italian, 1174-1189
Monreale, Cathedral
Lazarus in Abraham's Bosom
Italian, 1174-1189
Monreale, Cathedral

  • in wall painting

Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door, The Rich Man at Dinner
German, 1376-1488
Zierenberg, Protestant Church (painted before the Reformation)

  • and in miniature painting. 
Deaths and Reward of Lazarus and the Rich Man
from the Huntingfield Psalter
English, 1212-1220
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M43, 21r
Here Lazarus dies in poverty, lying on the ground.  Angels receive his soul and he rests in the bosom of Abraham.  The rich man, on the other hand, dies in his bed, but demons snatch his soul and force it into the mouth of Hell.
Perhaps most surprising is its frequent appearance in the prayer books of the very rich and powerful.  It was clearly a message for them on how they were expected to live their own lives.
Jean Colombe and others
Lazarus and the Rich Man
from Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1470-1471
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M677, fol.277r
Jean Colombe and others
Deaths of Lazarus and the Rich Man
from Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1470-1471
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M677, fol.279r

Jean Poyer, Lazarus and the Rich Man
from Hours of Henry VIII (yes, that Henry VIII)
French (Tours), 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H8, fol. 134v

The images reflected every aspect of the parable.  Portrayed were:
  • the luxury of the rich man;
The Rich Man at Table, Lazarus at the Door
from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M130, fol.96r

  • the miserable state of Lazarus and especially the passage regarding his sores and his relationship with the dogs;
Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door
from the Pictorial Bible of the Abbey of St. Bertin
French (St. Omer), ca. 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 16r (detail)

  • their respective deaths
Deaths of Lazarus and the Rich Man
from Sermons of Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS  Francais 187, fol. 27v (detail)
Each of the characters literally breathes forth their soul.  The soul of Lazarus is received by an angel, while that of
the rich man is forced from him by one devil, while another devil snatches it.

  • and the confrontation between the tormented rich man and Abraham.

The Rich Man Pleading with Abraham
from the Pictorial Bible of the Abbey of St. Bertin
French (St. Omer), ca. 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 16r (detail)

Jean Bandol and others, The Rich Man Pleading with Abraham
from Grande Bible historiale completee by Gerard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS RMMW 10 B 23, fol. 504v
The Rich Man Pleads with Abraham
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 197, fol. 89v

After the Reformation the diversity of these images declined in both Catholic and Protestant countries.   The emphasis shifted, to focus totally on the portrayal of the rich man’s luxury.  What remained of the rest of the story (that is the reward to each for their lives and the confrontation with Abraham) was shifted to the background or eliminated altogether.  This may be explained, in the Protestant countries at least, by emerging Protestant theology.  This proposed that, at death, the soul falls into a kind of sleep, not to be awakened until the Last Judgment.  Therefore, the second part of this parable, with its references to an individual judgment shortly after death (for the rich man pleads that a messenger be sent to his still living brothers) may have been uncomfortable.

Bernaert van Orley, Story of Dives and Lazarus
Closed Wings of the Triumph of Virtue Altarpiece
Flemish, 1521
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts
These wings show various elements of the story, though not always in an orderly narrative fashion.  In the left wing
Dives feasts in the central space of the panel while at the bottom Lazarus is discovered dead.  At the top angels bear
his soul (in a bubble or glass sphere) to heaven.  At the right the rich man is seen on his deathbed at the center.  At 
the bottom he lies in agony.  At the top Abraham appears bearing Lazarus in his bosom, while surrounded by angels.

Marcus Geeraerts the Elder, Story of Dives and Lazarus
Dutch, 1560s
Utrecht, Aartsbischoppelijk Museum
Here the emphasis is primarily on the feasting, although Lazarus is sprawled across the bottom.

Veronese, The Story of Dives and Lazarus
Italian, ca. 1540-1550
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia
The emphasis here is on the pleasures other than feasting that are enjoyed by the rich man (female company and music) while Lazarus begs at the outside of the portico.

Frans Francken theYounger, Dives and Lazarus
Flemish, ca.1610
Private Collection
There is heavy emphasis on the rich man's luxury.  The scene of Lazarus is pushed to the side.  The ultimate fates of the two men are relegated to the deep background, Lazarus' in the deep left and the rich man's glimpsed through the window-like opening at the right,  above the heads of the feasting guests.  Above the rich man's head a glass globe is suspended.  It is a reminder of his mortality, which he has forgotten.

Workshop of Domenico Fetti, Dives and Lazarus
Italian, 1618-1628
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art
Again this picture focuses on the feasting.  Lazarus is pushed to the side.

David Teniers the Younger, The Rich Man Led to Hell
Dutch, ca. 1647
London, National Gallery
This is a later development of the theme of the death of the rich man and the fate that awaits him.

One exception I have found (there may be others I haven’t seen) is an image by James Tissot from his series of New Testament illustrations, now in the Brooklyn Museum. Tissot’s image focuses on the confrontation between the tormented rich man and Abraham. However, it does so without showing us the demons and flames of earlier works. The idea of the “great chasm” between them is conveyed through their relative proportions and the use of color, rather than as a definitely fixed boundary.
James Tissot, The Rich Man Pleads with Abraham
French, 1884-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Over the course of the ages there has been one curious development in the story.  The rich man, who is not named in the Gospel, acquired a name.  He became known as Dives (pronounced “deeves” in English).  Where did this come from?

In the Vulgate, the Latin text of the Bible translated by St. Jerome in the 5th century, the first sentence of the passage reads: “Homo quidam erat dives et induebatur purpura et bysso et epulabatur cotidie splendide.”  The word used for “rich man” is “dives” (pronounced “dee-vez”).   Thus, as the gulf between the language used in church (Latin) diverged from the spoken languages of Europe the word for “rich man” began to be understood as a personal name, equivalent to the name of the pauper “Lazarus”.    

Lazarus too had a future in this world.  Because his sores were thought to have been the sores of leprosy, places to care for lepers were often called lazare houses.  And, although this application of his name is not used in the contemporary world, one application still is.  At the end of the Requiem Mass (now the Mass of Christian Burial) the last statement, whether spoken or sung is the text known as the "In Paradisum".  It is spoken just before the body of the deceased is borne out of the church.  It reads: 
"In paradisum deducant te angeli,
in tuo adventu 
suscipiant te martyres, 
et perducant te 
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. 
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, 
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere 
aeternam habeas requiem."

which translates as
"May the angels lead you into paradise, 
may the martyrs receive you
in your coming,
and may they guide you
into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you
and with Lazarus once poor
may you have eternal rest."

It was set memorably by Gabriel Faure in his Requiem in 1893.

©  M. Duffy, 2012

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