Sunday, August 10, 2014

Illustrating Miracles: Walking On Water

Master of Otto van Moerdrecht, Jesus Saving Peter From the Sea
From History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), ca. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek
MS 78 D 38 II, fol. 163r

"During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.

Matthew 14:25-33 (Excerpt from the Gospel for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)*

With a few exceptions, two of which are shown below, the images prompted by the passage from the Gospel for this Sunday reveal an understanding of the events of this Gospel that runs very deep, for it focuses more on the results of the actions of Peter than only on the obvious miracle of Jesus' ability to walk on water.

Gustave Dore, Jesus Walking on Water
From Illustrated Bible
French, 1866
James Tissot, Jesus Walking on Water
French, 1888-1894
New  York, Brooklyn Museum

Indeed, the majority of images can be divided roughly into two types, divided by the actions of Peter:  Before Foundering and After Foundering

Before Foundering 

Images from the "Before Foundering" group are few, probably because this type shows only the beginning of the story.  It sets up, as it were, the conditions of the main part of the story.

Among them are images showing Peter either stepping or jumping out of the boat in his eagerness to respond to Jesus’ command “Come.”

Master of Cabestany, Jesus Walking On Water
Catalan, ca. 1150
Barcelona, Museu Frederic Mares
Here Peter is ready to put one foot out of the boat.
Jesus Walking On Water
From Bible
Greek (Mistra), 1361-1362
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 135, fol.  220v
This shows Peter diving into the water

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Jesus Walks On Water
Italian, 1768-1770
Private Collection
Peter is starting to sink even as he exits the boat.

After Foundering

The principal, second group of images is far more numerous.  Here Peter, having impulsively left his boat and begun to walk on top of the sea, loses focus and faith due to the wind and waves.  He sinks into the water and reaches out with a cry to Jesus who pulls him to freedom and safety.

They are come from many eras, locations and media.  

Ottonian Master, Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea
From Codex Egberti
German (Trier), 977-993
Trier, Stadtbibliothek
MS 24, fol. 27v

 Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea
Mosaic from south side aisle Monreale Cathedral
Byzantine, 1180s
Monreale, Sicily, Cathedral
Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea
From Picture Bible
French (Abbey of St. Bertin), 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek
MS 76 F 5, fol. 14r

Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea
From Psalter
English (Oxford), 1200-1225
London, British Library
MS Arundel 157, fol. 7v.
Giotto, Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea (called the Navicella)
Mosaic from Old St. Peter's Basilica, partially reconstructed
Italian, ca. 1310
Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea
From North Doors of the Cathedral Baptistry
Italian, 1404-24
Florence, Cathedral, Baptistry

Lluis Borassa, Jesus Saves Peter From the Sea
Catalan, 1411-1413
Terassa, Sant Pere

Bedford Master, Peter Foundering in the Sea
From Hours of the Virgin
French (Paris), 1430-1435
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 359, fol. 66r

Master of Jean Rolin and Master of the Dunois Hours, Jesus Saves Peter from the Sea
from the Hours of Simon de Varie 
French (Paris), 1455 
The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek 
MS 74 G 37a, fol. 2r

Follower of Loyset Liedet, Jesus Saves Peter from the Sea
from the Bible Historiale of Edward IV
Flemish (Bruges), 1470-1479
London, British Library
MS Royal 15 D I, fol. 302v

Alessandro Allori, St. Peter Walking on Water
Italian, 1590s
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi

Odilon Redon, Jesus Saves Peter from the Sea
French, 1885
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Departement des Arts graphiques
James Tissot, St. Peter Founders in the Sea
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

They are reminders to us that the point of the story is not solely that, as God and Lord of Creation, Jesus could walk on water, but that if we have faith we too can do amazing things.  Further, that even when our faith is tested or our courage fails and we are found weak, He is able to save us when we call out to Him.

© M. Duffy 2014
*  Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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