Archive for the ‘Object of the Month.2021’ Category

Object of the Month: August 2021

A Philosopher Holding a Book

Oil on canvas

Giambattista Tiepolo

Venetian, 1696–1770

One of the latest Italian painters represented in the Museum & Gallery Collection is the greatest artist of 18th-century Venice, Giambattista Tiepolo. While Tiepolo achieved most of his fame through breathtakingly airy frescoes on the ceilings of palaces, churches, and villas, he also revived age-old themes from the Bible and antiquity through fresh interpretations. Such is the case with a series of bust-length portraits of bearded old men, begun perhaps as early as the 1740s. These men in oriental garb are widely regarded as a series of ancient philosophers, but no definite case may be made for the group since most lack traditional attributes. Tiepolo was certainly influenced by Rembrandt’s paintings of bearded old men which may also be perceived as simple character studies.

The present painting is the original treatment by Tiepolo that together with others from the series was later copied by his artist sons, Domenico and Lorenzo, in etchings called La Raccolta de Teste (The Collection of Heads). The vigorous brushwork, vibrant colors, elaborate dress, and penetrating gaze of the sitter combine to make M&G’s Philosopher Holding a Book an excellent example of Tiepolo’s lesser-known skills at small-scale work. The etching to the left is made by Giovanni’s son as a copy of his father’s work. These smaller versions usually omit the hands, but the cloak clasp is included.

One of the virtues of art that John Keats extols in his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is the ability of art to ask questions of the viewer. Sometimes these questions are answerable; sometimes they aren’t. But the mystery is what draws viewers to return, allowing them to absorb more of the work as well as more of the mystery.

So, what is it that makes this seemingly straightforward portrait of a man with a book so interesting and intriguing?

  • Size: The work is small, unlike most of Tiepolo’s painting, which adorns ceilings and walls of various significant buildings in Venice and elsewhere. This focused work is part of no grand scheme or storyline. The work is part of a larger collection, also unusual for the artist. While artists often had studios of apprentices, Tiepolo’s own sons copied these works as etchings, collecting them into a published book—a practice which, presumably, expanded the audience of viewers and increased greater demand for similar works. This painting is called a portrait; yet, in one sense it is not, for the emphasis is not on the sitter. This man is not a historical figure who wishes to be known to posterity; he is merely an anonymous model given a role to play as a philosopher with a book.
  • Subject: Is he really a philosopher? Which philosopher is he? In the collection of twenty “heads,” only two have been identified as actual philosophers: Diogenes and Pythagoras. It has been suggested that M&G’s may be Xenophon, a Greek historian and philosopher. It has also been suggested that these “philosophers” are merely studies in physiognomy, a so-called science of identifying the character of a person through an examination of facial structure or attributes such as the set of eyes or wrinkles. Such a science was familiar to Tiepolo whose sketches illustrated a manual on the topic.
  • Details: What or who are on the clasps and brooches so prevalent in the collection? Tiepolo used the motif on the clasps in other works not a part of this collection—Two Men in Oriental Costume (a large wall decoration) and the more elaborate scenes of the Scherzi di Fantasia. The cameo-like ornament adorns the turbans as well as the cloaks. Are they meant to identify the philosophers? Or simply beautiful Oriental embellishments?

All of these questions can be frustrating to art historians and viewers alike. But Keats would propose that they are an indication of good art, something beautiful that attracts further examination, pondering, and appreciation without final satisfaction. Good art pulls us out of ourselves and reminds us, like Horatio, that “there are more things in heaven and earth. . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Doubtless, this philosopher with a book would have agreed.

Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member

Citation: Print, Portrait of a Man, Plate 6, from the series Raccolta Di Teste I; Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727 – 1804); Italy; etching on white laid paper; 1931-67-106-2

 

Published 2021

Object of the Month: July 2021

Christ at the Pool of Bethesda

Oil on canvas

Unknown Italian

16th or 17th century

This beautiful 16th or 17th century work by an unknown Italian artist stands out due to its rectangular shape spanning approximately 9 ½ feet long. The artist used the entire length of the painting to masterfully demonstrate his knowledge of architecture and perspective. He also illustrates Palladian-style architecture which was inspired by Ancient Greek and Roman temples and focused on symmetry and proportion based on mathematical principles. The massive Corinthian columns, Roman-style sculptures in the niches along the arcade, and decorative motifs above each of the many doorways further exemplify the Palladian character of the structure. The painting also demonstrates the realistic use of lighting and perfect proportion of the figures (clad with a variety of rich, vibrant color) in comparison with the enormous temple-like structure. The actual site of the Pool of Bethesda, the subject of this painting, was discovered in the late 19th century confirming its description in the Gospel of John.

The artist captures one of only two miracles Jesus performed in Jerusalem. For those living in this part of the world, water was vital to all aspects of life. The Pool of Bethesda was no exception. The pool was divided into two reservoirs with one most likely functioning as a ritual bath (mikveh) and the other used to replenish it. Many sick, lame, and blind came to the pool because of the pool’s supposed healing powers, a long held pagan tradition. They believed that an angel would come and stir the waters and whoever stepped into the water first would be healed of his ailment (John 5:3-4).

Jesus knew there would be large crowds attending a religious festival in Jerusalem (John 5:1) and therefore, witnesses to what he was about to do. To the right of the painting, Jesus, wearing a dark blue cloak, and accompanied by a few of his disciples, approaches one of the many invalids. Jesus specifically chose a crippled man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus asks him, “wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:6) The invalid tells Jesus that he has no one to help him into the water and that he can never get to the water before someone steps in before him. Jesus does not lay hands on the man or touch him in any way but instead commands the invalid to get up, pick up his bed and walk. Miraculously, the man is completely healed by only words of Jesus.

The miracle of the lame man’s physical restoration revels Jesus’s identity as the Jewish people’s long-awaited Messiah. Instead, the Jewish leaders remained spiritually blind focusing only on the fact that Jesus healed a man on the sabbath which violated their oral traditions expanded from the Law of Moses. Jesus later finds the healed man in the temple and in addition to physical healing offers spiritual healing encouraging the man to “sin no more” (John 5:14). This miracle not only showcases Christ’s compassion for those enduring physical afflictions but also, and more importantly, reveals His desire to provide spiritual healing for all from the ravages of sin.

Rebekah Cobb, Registrar

Published 2021

Object of the Month: June 2021

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon

Oil on Canvas

Jacopo Robusti, called Il Tintoretto

Venetian, 1519-1594

Allegory of Wisdom

Oil on Canvas

Marietta Robusti, called La Tintoretta

Venetian, c. 1554- c.1590

 

Jacopo Robusti, better known by his nickname, Il Tintoretto, was one of the most sought after and prolific painters in sixteenth-century Venice. He never lacked for commissions throughout his life and produced some of the city’s most famous canvases. The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon from the Museum & Gallery collection is one of his early works.

Jacopo’s success was in part due to his bustling family workshop which included two of his sons and Marietta his daughter, painter of M&G’s Allegory of Wisdom. In an article on Marietta, Louise Arizzoli points out that “Our reading of Renaissance masters as individual geniuses that started with Vasari’s Lives, sheds a negative light on those collaborators who remained in the shadow of the leading artist. These family workshops have however to be understood as teamwork, in which every member had specific responsibilities in order to ensure the quality of the commissions. Therefore, it is particularly difficult for us now to recognize individualities, as it was not the aim of the workshop to enhance individual style but to produce a certain style—that of Tintoretto” [Italics added]. This is one reason that apart from a small number of religious paintings and the Self-Portrait above (now in the Uffizi) few works are definitively assigned to Marietta. In addition, her talents were a close match to her father’s. This is especially evident in the figural details and similarities of brushwork and coloration in the two M&G works showcased.

These mysteries of attribution are not only on-going but truly fascinating.  For example, many scholars believe that several of Marietta’s works may simply have been incorporated into her father’s oeuvre.  For example, Old Man and a Boy (Kunsthistorisches Museum) was considered one of Jacopo’s best portraits, but in 1920 Duncan Bull, a curator at the Rijksmuseum, reassigned the attribution to Marietta on the basis of the ‘M’ signature discovered on the work. (The ‘M’ is in the lower right of canvas beside the chair arm.) However, there are still scholars reluctant to accept this re-attribution.

Two other important biographers detailing Tintoretto’s (and by extension Marietta’s) career are Raffaele Borghini (1537-1588) and Carlo Ridolfi (1594-1658). Both writers note that Marietta was not only exceptionally talented but also her father’s favorite. In his Le Maraviglie dell’Arte Ridolfi writes:

Marietta Tintoretto, then, lived in Venice, the daughter of the famous Tintoretto and the dearest delight of his soul. He trained her in design and color, whence later she painted such works that men were amazed by her lively talent. Being small of stature she dressed like a boy. Her father took her with him wherever he went and everyone thought she was a lad. She made a portrait of Jacopo Strada, the antiquarian of Emperor Maximilian, who presented it to his majesty as a rare work, whence the emperor, charmed by her valor, made enquiries about her of her father. Philip II, the King of Spain, and Archduke Ferdinand also asked him about her. However, Tintoretto was satisfied to see her married to Mario [Marco] Augusta, a jeweler, so that she might always be nearby, rather than be deprived of her, even though she might be favored by princes, as he loved her tenderly […] When she died her father wept bitterly, taking it as the loss of a part of his own inner being.

Marietta died four years before her father around 1590. The exact cause of her death is uncertain, but many believe she died in childbirth. Regardless, Ridolfi’s account of the close personal and professional relationship between the two would blur “into the myth of a young and talented woman painter who died too soon, leaving her father heart-broken.” We do know that Jacopo’s output began to fall off after his daughter’s death—whether because of grief or because of the loss of collaborative talent cannot be known. In any case, she would eventually become a muse for 19th century painters. Léon Cogniet’s Tintoretto Painting his Dead Daughter is perhaps the most famous among these Romantic paintings.

 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

 

Published in 2021

Object of the Month: May 2021

The Brazen Serpent

Oil on canvas, 1790

Benjamin West, P.R.A.

American, active in England, 1738–1820

Roughly three years before the treaty ending the Revolutionary War, King George III commissioned Benjamin West to create a special series of paintings for the chapel at Windsor Castle. West, who had become one of the leading artists in England and Historical Painter to the King in 1772, considered this commission to be the “great work of [his] life.” The Progress of Revealed Religion would cover Biblical history from “commencement to completion.” To understand more about this royal commission, the artist, and M&G’s distinction of displaying the largest assembly of completed paintings from the series, read St. Peter Preaching at Pentecost.

West’s choices for the series’ subjects and organization were probably influenced by William Warburton, who wrote about the parallels between the Old and New Testaments and specifically how the Old Testament laid the foundation for the New Testament work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The artist chose and outlined his visual narratives for the chapel into four dispensations: creation and fall of man (pre-Mosaic law), the Israelite nation under Mosaic law, Christ’s life and dispensation of grace, and the last judgment.

M&G’s The Brazen Serpent fits within the dispensation focused on the Israelite nation under Mosaic law. The life of Moses is remarkable from birth to death. God called him to lead the enslaved Hebrew nation out of Egypt to Canaan, the Promised Land. From the outset, the journey was challenging. As the Hebrews arrived at the Red Sea, their Egyptian masters followed them, and the situation looked dire. The overwhelmed children of Israel responded by crying, blaming God and Moses, and complaining about their circumstances—a cycle of responses that the infant nation would repeat. God miraculously parted the waters into two heaps while the large caravan crossed on dry land to the other side. As the Egyptians started through the waters, God closed the path with the Red Sea crashing down and destroying them instead—the first of His many provisions and blessings. God’s presence and leading were visible with a pillar of clouds by day and fire by night. He supplied fresh water, manna (bread of heaven), victory over enemies, clothing and shoes that didn’t wear out. On Mt. Sinai, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses for the help of Israel’s development as a distinctive nation protected by God. God outlined unique worship features and a sanctuary designed for praise, prayer, and offerings to Jehovah alone. He chose this people and made a special covenant with them.

Even with these physical and spiritual blessings, the Israelites griped about the food (wishing for leeks and onions of Egypt, meat, etc.), their thirst for water, Moses’ leadership, fear of the “giants” in the land God promised them. Their recurring lack of gratitude led to judgment, including the curse to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until the complaining generation (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) had all died. Only their children would enter the land of promise. Following a victory over the Canaanites as they neared the border of the Promised Land, once again “the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’ So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:4-9).

As on previous occasions, the people begged Moses to pray to God for their forgiveness, admitting they had sinned against the Lord and him. Moses prayed, and the Lord commanded him to “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live. So, Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole.” Instead of taking away the punishment, God mercifully provided a remedy in the form of a brass serpent. Whoever turned to view the brazen serpent was healed. Individuals could make their choice: they could look and live or choose death.

Helmut van Erffa and Alan Staley consider The Brazen Serpent to be “one of the most successful full-scale paintings for the chapel.” In West’s powerful visual narrative, he included snakes everywhere—biting and coiling themselves around the people, and even some in the air (upper left). West owned a collection of Renaissance and Baroque engravings, which he often referenced for inspiration. The drama of this work borrows from both Peter Paul Rubens’ Brazen Serpent and the famous sculpture from antiquity of Laocoön and his sons (figure group at the lower left of the painting). However, the figure of Moses reflects the muscular strength and monumentality of Michelangelo’s style.

In the distance between Moses’ feet, the camp tents are barely visible, but filling the foreground (and our ears’ imagination) are a variety of emotional responses expressed by these suffering people. Compassionate, fearful mothers carry their children to view the bronze serpent. Some men are praying or pointing the way for others to look and be healed. Others are in the stages of recovery, while a few mourn over those who have died. West’s composition leads the eyes upward to the light breaking from heaven and silhouetting the figure of Moses—the brightest part of the painting, where there is hope, the cure.

Centuries after the great patriarch’s death, Nicodemus, a knowledgeable teacher of the Jewish Sanhedrin, came to Jesus by night for answers. To illustrate how one can enter God’s kingdom, Christ explained His coming crucifixion and hope of salvation, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director

 

Published 2021

Object of the Month: April 2021

The Entombment of Christ

Oil on canvas

Jusepe de Ribera, called Lo Spagnoletto

Spanish, 1591-1652

While Italian Renaissance artists benefited from a mutual sharing of progressive artistic advancements, Spanish artists remained deeply provincial until the Baroque age. Jusepe de Ribera spent his career in the Spanish-controlled kingdom of Naples where he adopted the naturalism of Caravaggio. Ribera’s works, imported from Naples to Spain, brought to other Spanish artists the lighting effects of Caravaggio, the most influential Italian painter of the 17th century. In addition, viceroys brought both originals by Caravaggio and copies back to Spain. Caravaggio’s dramatically deep chiaroscuro (the effect of light and shade) and rugged realism (portraying as accurately as possible the natural world) are evident in this work by Ribera.

When looking at religious art, it is best to begin with the source of the work. In this case it is the Biblical accounts of the burial of Christ which are detailed in all four of the Gospels and reveal the cast of characters present in the painting (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19). After His sacrificial death on the cross, Christ was hastily buried because of the imminent start of the Sabbath celebration. Joseph of Arimathea, a just man who had voted against the action of the Sanhedrin to put Christ to death; Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin who had sought out Jesus by night to inquire how one could enter the kingdom of heaven; and Mary Magdalene, a wealthy follower of Christ who had seven devils cast out of her, are all mentioned as being present at the tomb. Other women are mentioned as well, but John the disciple and Mary, Christ’s mother are not mentioned in the Gospels as attending, but Ribera chooses to adhere to tradition and include them both.

Traditional Imagery

So, who is who? Traditional iconography would dictate that John is the young man in the back right who is wiping away his tears. Joseph would be the older man in the forefront with the red cloak; he is, after all, a wealthy man who has donated his new tomb for the Savior. That leaves Nicodemus as the older man at the head of Christ. Because of the long, free blonde hair, Mary Magdalene is in the center with Mary the mother of Christ in the shadows.

Though Christ’s body is pallid and remarkably whole given the scourging and the crowning of His head with thorns, the open wound in His side signifies Christ’s personal cost for man’s salvation from sin, which He purchased for all. Bringing forth blood and water, the soldier’s action revealed the emptying of life that sustained Christ until the payment of man’s sin was complete. Ribera places the body on a stone surface, likely the burial table in the tomb, which has a sharply defined corner. This compositional detail reflects the words of the Apostle Peter, referencing the Psalmist David and the prophet Isaiah who characterize the coming Messiah as a “rejected” stone of “stumbling and a rock of offense” which has become the “cornerstone.” A cornerstone sets the stability of the entire building, and the reader is told that “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (I Peter 2:6-8). Clearly, the kingdom of God is set upon the foundation of the death of Jesus Christ.

Ironically, however, at His death and burial, no one believed He would rise again. The incredulity of the disciples when the women reported the angel’s words at the empty tomb reveals that they did not understand the teaching of Jesus that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:21). But anyone who does understand that saying, including the multitude of Christ’s followers in the days following the resurrection, can be assured that he or she will not be disappointed in believing and accepting the death of the sinless Christ to pay for their own sins.

What is interesting about Ribera’s composition of the Entombment is the placement of the two women. Mary the mother of Christ is no longer the prominent woman; she is nearly hidden in the shadows while Mary Magdalene is in the foreground mourning Christ with clasped hands and downcast eyes.

Scriptural Accounts

Given the controversies associated with the Magdalene, it is important to focus on what the Scriptures tell about her:

  • Luke tells that “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” followed Christ as He traveled. The first listed is “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (8:2). These women are also characterized as supporting Christ and His disciples “out of their means” (Luke 8:3).
  • At the crucifixion, John reports that Mary was “standing by the cross of Jesus” with Mary the mother of Christ (19:25).
  • Mark then relates that “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw where [Jesus] was laid” (15:47) and with “the women who had come with him from Galilee . . . returned and prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 23:55-56) for the more detailed burial after the Sabbath was over.
  • All four Gospels reveal that Mary Magdalene was up early on the morning after the Sabbath on her way to the tomb to minister to the Lord’s body. Here, clearly, is the biblical record of a woman dedicated to the life and memory of the One who had rescued her from Satan’s power.

Artistic Depiction

Ribera’s reversal of prominence may reflect the truth that at Christ’s death, His relationship to His mother ended. As the eldest son, now unable to care for His mother any longer, He transferred Mary to John’s care. But the prominence of Mary Magdalene in the central foreground of the group of followers mirrors the tender truth of a Luke 7 parable told by Jesus about a moneylender who forgave a large and small debt of two men as an illustration about another woman only identified as “a sinner” (likely a woman of loose morals). Although Magdalene is not this woman, her life attests to the same love that the “sinner” had for her Lord. Christ explains that the unnamed woman is like the man with the greater debt. Her “sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” The Magdalene had not one, but seven, devils cast out of her; there is no telling the damaging physical effects of her demon-possession. And though the demons were aware of Christ’s identity as the Messiah, they certainly would have kept their victim from realizing and accepting that truth for herself. The Magdalene of Ribera’s focus had much to be thankful for, and her dedication to the service of both the living and dead Christ reveals the depth of that love.

At the tomb early that Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and her companions were told that Christ was risen and instructed to tell the disciples. What a privilege to share that good news! But Mary was more than a messenger. Christ appeared to hundreds of His disciples in the days after His resurrection, but Mark relates, “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons” (16:9). Given her love for Christ as evidenced by her eagerness to prepare His body properly for burial, it is no accident that she is the first to see the risen Christ whom she worships immediately, clasping His nail-pierced feet—the physical manifestation of Christ’s power to defeat death, her demons, and save her eternal soul.

Ribera’s composition places the viewer within the circle of mourners around the dead Christ with nothing in the composition to separate the viewer from the body itself. Thus, we are made to react as if we were within the frame. Do we see ourselves as sinners, loving Christ dearly, but devasted at His death, demoralized by the apparent emptiness of His promises of the kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins?  Will we, like Mary Magdalene, recognize our Savior and hear Him say that He is “ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17)? We will, if this Easter, we believe the Gospel accounts of the Christ whom Mary followed faithfully.

Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member

 

Published 2021

Object of the Month: March 2021

Christ and the Samaritan Woman

Oil on canvas, c. 1620

Abraham Bloemaert

Dutch, 1566-1651

Abraham Bloemaert, whose career spanned more than 50 years, adapted to several major changes in prevailing artistic styles. His art began firmly rooted in the late mannerist tradition with its elongated figure-types and complex compositions, but later changed to the tenebrist style brought from Italy by some of his students. As the master of many important Dutch painters, including Terbrugghen, van Bijlert, and Honthorst, Bloemaert is considered one of the most important and influential Dutch artists of the early 17th century.

The subject of Christ and the Samaritan Woman enjoyed popularity for many generations in the Netherlands. While artists generally painted this theme in a landscape (horizontal) orientation, Bloemaert chose a vertical one. This change allows him to focus on the figures in the foreground without surrounding countryside to distract the viewer. It also allows him to create a more intimate portrait of the two major characters in the story.

According to Art Daily, “The bulk of his painted oeuvre is made up of history pieces, paintings with large figures depicting an episode from a story. . . . Since the fifteenth century, art theorists had regarded history painting as the apex of the hierarchy of painterly genres.” And since this is a history painting, “to comprehend such a picture, [viewers] have to know the story” (Art Daily).  Bloemaert portrays the Samaritan woman’s conversion as told in the Gospel of John, chapter 4. Of course, he needs to choose which moment in the storyline to freeze for the viewer’s consideration. But make no mistake, the whole story is important.

The Story

In John 4, a weary Christ confronts a marginalized woman with a simple question: “Give me to drink” (4:7). She responds with a defensive reminder that the “Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans” (4:9) who were usually ostracized as an ethnic group.  The Jews hold that their descent from Jacob is the purer one, unadulterated by intermarriage as the Samaritans’ was. This woman is in a very uncomfortable position from the beginning of the conversation. She has also come to the well at noon. Drawing water, then carrying water any distance in the heat of the Middle Eastern day is burdensome. She must have had a compelling reason for her presence at that time. The well was a social gathering spot, a type of “watering hole” for women from the village and even herdsmen from the fields. It seems clear that the woman is avoiding people.

Jesus then asks her another question, a “who” question somewhat like hers: if she only knew Who was asking a drink from her, she would ask Him for water, and it would be “living water” (4:10), superior to that from the well. Defensively, she notes He has nothing with which to draw water from the well, unlike her rope and pitcher seen in the painting. She follows up with a history lesson: Jacob, a common ancestor, dug the well, and it gives good water, tasty and plentiful. Christ responds with an elaboration on His “living water.” The major difference, He says, between the types of water is their thirst-quenching properties. How she must have tired of the hot, dusty chore of fetching water from a well probably some distance from the village. Then she asks for His water in order to ease her workload: “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (4:15).

Next, Jesus changes the subject abruptly and tells her to call her husband. Here seems to be the moment of the painting, and the marginalization of the woman increases. With His hand outstretched Christ tells her she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man not her husband. Morally, the woman is on the fringe of society; undoubtedly this fact is the reason for her midday water run. In the painting, she tilts her head downward. She must have been astonished by His knowledge; she may have been ashamed. She certainly tries to deflect the conversation.

This woman, like most people, does not want to come directly to Jesus. But she moves one step closer: “I perceive that you are a prophet” (4:19). She poses a religious red herring question about the worship of God: whether the Jews were right about Jerusalem or the Samaritans about their mountain. Christ kindly answers her question, “Salvation is from the Jews” (4:22), from the line of David. She obviously knows her Old Testament and brings up not only the coming of the Messiah, but also His omniscience: “When He comes, He will tell us all things” (4:25). At this point Christ tells her, “I Who speak to you am He” (4:26).

She is on the fringes geographically. Though Jews would go miles out of the way to travel around Samaria if at all possible, yet Jesus “must needs go through” (4:4) the region. She is historically ostracized by the Jews as well and morally shunned by her village. But Jesus goes out of His way, literally, to tell her the truth about Himself. And she is the first to hear from His own lips that He is the Messiah, not only of the Jews, but of all who will accept His offer of living water. But it is the knowledge of her life that convinces her: she leaves her waterpot, goes into the village and tells all, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? (4:29). The story ends with Christ staying two days in Sychar, Samaria, then returning to Galilee. There is no record of His working in any other town; it appears that meeting this woman and those of her village was His whole purpose for the journey into Samaria.

The Art

Bloemaert has symbolized the woman’s need by the empty copper pot near her feet; while the greenery at Christ’s feet is lush, testifying to the abundant life that Christ’s water gives. The choice of clothing color is also significant. While purple is the color of royalty, Christ’s inner garment is violet, a color representing love, truth, passion, and suffering. His outer cloak is a vibrant red, certainly an association with blood. As the Messiah, Christ would suffer a violent death for the sins of this woman and of the whole world, because He loved those who would surely die without His living water. That a dying Messiah offers living water is an interesting juxtaposition. The yellow of the woman’s gown signals revealed truth but can also signify degradation. Here Bloemaert’s color choices (his palette was distinctive) reveal the storyline too. A sinful, marginalized woman encounters revealed truth, both in word and in person. What she does with that truth removes her shame and allows her to live forever as a child of God.

Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member

 

Published 2021

Object of the Month: February 2021

Torah Case 

Torah Mantle 

Torah Finger 

From the Bowen Collection of Antiquities

The Torah contains the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) divided into 54 sections. These portions are read out loud to Jewish congregations throughout the year in the synagogue, at ceremonies (like weddings, funerals, and Bar Mitzvahs), and at commemorative events in the Jewish calendar. But only a Sefer Torah (one that is approved and ritually clean) can be used in public Jewish worship.

Jewish tradition holds that the very words of the Pentateuch were dictated by God, and thus, are worthy of the extreme care given to ensure that all the 304,805 Hebrew letters in the Pentateuch have been accurately hand copied in a Sefer Torah. To make certain that nothing detracts from the words, only specific fonts are used, and embellishment or illumination of the text is prohibited. However, to show respect for a Sefer Torah and to reflect its value to congregants, the objects associated with it are often lavishly ornamented.

Torah Case: Tik

The Aron Kodesh (the “Torah ark” or “ark”) is the focal point in a synagogue. Depending on the means of the congregation, the ark may be a simple wooden cabinet or a large structure adorned with ornate carvings and precious materials. When the Aron Kodesh is opened the true valuables of the synagogue—its Sefer Torahs and items associated with their use—are revealed.

Generally, Sephardic Jews keep a Torah scroll in a cylindrical case, called the tik, which holds the scroll upright.  M&G’s Torah Case (tik) is a wooden, hinged cylinder covered in fabric and embellished with embossed silver appliqués. The top, decorative portion of the tik is called the Torah crown. M&G’s Torah crown appears to be a modified pomegranate shape. Since God instructed the Jews to use pomegranate motifs on the High Priest’s ceremonial garments, and they were also used to ornament the Tabernacle and Solomonic Temple, modified pomegranates are traditional tik adornments.

On chains from M&G’s Torah crown are tiny bells which would tinkle as the tik was carried from the ark to the bimah, the place in the synagogue where the tik would be opened and the Torah read. However, missing from M&G’s tik are two rimonim (Hebrew word for pomegranate); these decorated finials fit on the rods on top of the tik and serve as handles for opening the scroll. When the tik was fully open on the platform, the scroll (also missing from M&G’s tik) would be upright and a column of the Torah’s text would be visible for the reader.

The picture on the right highlights additional interesting details. For example, the inscription in the upper left reads: “This case of the Scroll of the Law was made by the good woman, the daughter of Meir Zekiel Samuel.” The inscription in the upper right reads: “This is the Law which Moses set before the children of Israel. These are the testimonies, the statues, the ordinances, etc.”

Torah Mantle

Ashkenazic Jews generally store Torah scrolls in mantles that have openings at the top to accommodate the handles of the atzei chayim (thetrees of life”), which are the wooden dowels on which the scroll is rolled. Torah mantles take various forms and can be made of simple cloth, rich brocades, or velvet. They are frequently embellished with elaborate embroidery and appliqué.

M&G’s Torah Mantle is maroon velvet embroidered with the tablets of the 10 commandments, the lion of the tribe of Judah, and crowns representing the Jewish kingdom. Other common mantle motifs include the tree of life, the star of David, pillars of the temple and the seven-branched menorah. Once an Ashkenazi Torah is carried to the bimah (platform or podium), the mantle is removed and depending upon local traditions, the Torah is either laid flat or supported on an incline before being read publicly.

Torah Finger: Yad

The actual writing of a Sefer Torah should not be touched. Not only would it be disrespectful to the words of God, the perspiration and oils from the hand could lead to deterioration and flaking of the ink. Damage to a Torah causes it to no longer be Sefer and thus unusable in Jewish public worship.

To read passages of the Torah during a service is an honor, but keeping one’s place during public oral reading is not always easy. To help prevent mistakes, a yad (sometimes called a Torah finger) is used. Yads often have a handle, a shaft, and a hand with a pointing finger. Some have chains used to hang them on the scroll when stored in the Aron Kodesh. A yad is often made of gold, silver, wood, bone or, like M&G’s Torah Finger, bronze. The person reading may follow the text with the yad, or another person may use the yad to indicate the text to be read.

The extreme care exercised when preserving the text of the Torah and the lavishness of the trappings which adorn the Torah give witness to the reverence the Jewish nation has for the words of God.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

 

Selected References

Baghdadi Torah Case (Tik): This gallery section shows the scroll within the Torah case.

Jewish Virtual Library: Torah Ornaments

Jewish Virtual Library: Ark

Why Do Sephardim Keep Their Torahs in Cylindrical Cases?

 

Published in 2021

Object of the Month: January 2021

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Tempera on canvas, monogrammed and dated 1490 (lower left on base of column)

Antoine de Lonhy, called the Master of the Trinity of Turin

French (active in Spain and Flanders), c. active 1460–1490

French-born Antoine de Lonhy painted this vibrant scene around 1490. Although he trained in the Burgundy region of France, de Lonhy spent parts of his early career in Toulouse and Barcelona. He worked his later years in what is today the Piedmont and Aosta Valley regions of Italy. For many years, de Lonhy’s identity remained a mystery, and he was known only as the Master of the Trinity of Turin. Only in the past 20 years have scholars been able to identify de Lonhy and associate his name with his varied body of work. De Lonhy was a true Renaissance man whose work included panel paintings, illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, and stained glass, as well as textile and sculpture designs.

Mort de la Verge, Antoine de Lonhy

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple was originally painted on panel and at some point, transferred to canvas. M&G’s painting is believed to have been part of a large, lost altarpiece of a church in Piedmont. Another of de Lonhy’s works, Mort de la Verge, displays the same raised gold-leaf technique as well as similar colors and patterns to M&G’s Presentation. It is possible that both panels were once part of the lost altarpiece. De Lonhy’s masterful skill shines in all the details of this work, especially in his pristine architectural elements. The raised gold-leaf, particularly on the halos and borders of the garments, provides texture and dimension. His use of vibrant colors and patterns beautifully illustrates the joyfulness of the occasion. Mary lovingly presents the Christ Child to the priest while Joseph looks on carrying their offering of two turtledoves. Ironically, de Lonhy clad Mary and Joseph in rich, brocade garments which contrasts with the turtledoves, the offering of the poor.

Luke 2:22-40 illuminates the narrative of this scene. Jewish law required a woman to be purified 40 days after giving birth to a son. The mother was required to bring an offering of a year-old lamb or two young pigeons or turtledoves (for those who could not afford a lamb). This offering was presented to the priest who sacrificed them before the Lord to make atonement for the mother (Leviticus 12:1-8). The law of Moses also required the consecration of every firstborn male. In accordance with the law, Mary and Joseph traveled to the temple in Jerusalem to present Christ for consecration. Luke tells of the priest, Simeon, who was promised “by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” De Lonhy captures the moment when that promise to Simeon was fulfilled: Mary presented the Lord’s Messiah to Simeon for consecration leading Simeon to respond with praise to and adoration of God. Simeon witnessed with his own eyes God’s fulfillment of His promise.

Rebekah Cobb, Registrar

 

Published in 2021