The Baptism of the Lord

 

Andrea del Verrocchio is known primarily as a Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith, but he and his busy workshop in Florence also produced paintings. He trained many young artists and among them was Leonardo da Vinci, who assisted with this painting of the Baptism of Christ.  Leonardo painted the angel at the far left as well as some of the landscape. Most of the painting is done in tempera, which uses egg yolk to bind the pigment, but some areas also include touches of oil paint, a new medium that was just being introduced in Italy at this time by Dutch and Flemish painters. Continue reading

Adoration of the Magi

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

Continue reading

Year in Review

Thank you to all my wonderful readers, this little blog had almost 5,000 visitors this year! Here are your Top 10 favorite posts for 2015, with links to each one in their titles. Did your favorite make the list? Tell us in the comments, what was your favorite?

1. The Good Shepherd

Jesus as the Good Shepherd, mosaic, 5th c. Galla Placidia Mausoleum, Ravenna, Italy.

2. The Hands of the Father

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661-1669, 262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

3. The Transfiguration

Transfiguration mosaic in apse of St. Catherine's Monastery, ca. 565 AD.

4. Finding God Through Art

Golden Fire

5. St. Teresa of Avila

Ecstasy-Bernini

6. Stormy Weather

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633, oil on canvas, 160 x 128 cm. Whereabouts unknown since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery in 1990.

7. The Song of Miriam

Miriam by Anselm Feuerbach (1862); oil on canvas, 102cm x 81 cm. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

 

8. Sheep or Goat?

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9. Doubting Thomas

Christ and St. Thomas by Andrea del Verrocchio, Bronze sculpture, Orsanmichele, Florence, Italy

10. Woman with the Alabaster Jar

St Mary Magdalen and St Catherine of Alexandria, Simone Martini,1320-25 Fresco, 215 x 185 cm Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi.

Zechariah’s Vision

 

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.

Once when he was serving as priest
in his division’s turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.

After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
“So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:5-25

 

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The Angel Gabriel Appearing to Zacharias, ca. 1799–1800
William Blake (British, 1757–1827)
Pen and black ink, tempera and glue

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Blake illustrates these verses from Luke (1:5–13) that describe Gabriel’s announcement.

The priest’s fear and astonishment in the face of the heavenly apparition are vividly described, as are the details of his colorful costume and the furniture of the Temple. Clouds of bubbles from the burner Zacharias holds join the smoke and flames from the fire on the altar of incense.

The picture belonged to an important commission. It is one of fifty Old and New Testament subjects ordered from the artist in 1799 by his principal patron, Thomas Butts, a clerk in the war office.

For more on William Blake, read this.

The Hand of the Lord Has Done This

 

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and double-edged,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off
and the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the LORD,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:13-20

 

Today’s reading brought to mind the great 19th century landscapes of the American West. Thomas Moran is one of my favorites in this genre. This is one of his three monumental landscapes, both in theme and size, at 109″ x 90 3/4″ x 9 1/4″ (276.8 cm x 230.5 cm x 23.4 cm)! That’s 9ft. wide and 7 1/2ft. tall!! For more on Moran visit here.

 

Mountain of the Holy Cross, Thomas Moran, 1875, Autry Museum of Western Art

Mountain of the Holy Cross, Thomas Moran, 1875, Autry Museum of Western Art

 

From the Autry Museum:

“Painting by Thomas Moran, Mountain of the Holy Cross, 1875. Few sites embodied romantic mystery and western legend more than did Colorado’s Mountain of the Holy Cross. Prior to William Henry Jackson’s 1873 photo (created during a government expedition led by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden), the mountain was known primarily through folklore that traced its first sightings to Spanish explorers. Popularly believed to have been emblazoned on the mountain by the hand of God, the cross came to be seen as a call for Americans to renew the Christian morality required to settle the West. Mountain of the Holy Cross was thus seen as a New-World embodiment of the Old Testament site where God was revealed to Moses, and was quickly deemed an “American Sinai.” The mountain’s role as an emblem of the religious call to Western settlement was enhanced by its position between the crucial 39th and 40th degrees of latitude, a location that Hayden had called public attention to in his annual report to Congress in 1873. Surrounded by mountains and linked with a river system, many saw Colorado Territory (which became a state within a year of Moran’s painting) as the spiritual heart of the budding American Empire. Upon seeing Jackson’s photo, Moran traveled to the area the following summer, where he decided to use the waterfall in the foreground to emphasize the monumentality of the scene and bring it more in line with popular conventions regarding the picturesque. With this characteristic use of artistic license, Moran completed the painting in April of 1874 from his Newark studio, and by early June arranged for the picture to go on display at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Perhaps due to its overtly religious message, Mountain of the Holy Cross remained unsold for several years, until it was purchased in 1880 by Dr. William Bell, a founding member of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad consortium. Moran was market-savvy, and knew when he paintedMountain of the Holy Cross that the natural formation would be interpreted as divine favor for western expansion, a central tenet of European-American social and religious thought. Under his ownership, Bell took this symbolism one step further by selling tickets to see the painting to pilgrims visiting his home on their way to the mineral springs of the Rockies.”

Harvest

 

Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Matthew 10:2

 

Westfield With A Reaper, Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam

 

Vincent Van Gogh painted dozens of wheat fields and for him they held spiritual significance. He had a special affinity for laborers and peasants, seeing in them a nobility and a metaphor for the human struggle. Below are some of his wheatfield paintings with peasants along with quotes from the artist, who kept up a copious correspondence with his beloved brother Theo and others until his untimely death from suicide.

 

Peasant Woman Binding Sheaves

“Through the iron-barred window I see a square field of wheat in an enclosure, a perspective like Van Goyen, above which I see the morning sun rising in all its glory.”

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“One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not here.”

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“The best way to know God is to love many things. Love a friend, a wife, something – whatever you like – (and) you will be on the way to knowing more about Him; this is what I say to myself. But one must love with a lofty and serious intimate sympathy, with strength, with intelligence.”

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“One must undertake with confidence, with a certain assurance that one is doing a reasonable thing, like the farmer who drives his plow… (one who) drags the harrow behind himself. If one hasn’t a horse, one is one’s own horse.”

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“the sower and the wheat sheaf stood for eternity, and the reaper and his scythe for irrevocable death.”

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“What can a person do when he thinks of all the things he cannot understand, but look at the fields of wheat… We, who live by bread, are we not ourselves very much like wheat… to be reaped when we are ripe.”

 

Sower at Sunset by Vincent Van Gogh; June 1888, oil on canvas, 64 x 80.5cm; Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

“What the germinating force is in a grain of wheat, love is in us.”

The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh, November 1888, Oil on canvas 64 x 80.5 cm, Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam.

“aren’t we, who live on bread, to a considerable extent like wheat, at least aren’t we forced to submit to growing like a plant without the power to move, by which I mean in whatever way our imagination impels us, and to being reaped when we are ripe, like the same wheat?”

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Giving Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to you, dear Readers. May your life be filled with abundance and grace and may your gratitude to God be overflowing.

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

Luke 17:11-19

 

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Cleansing of the ten lepers, c. 1035-1040, Codex Aureus Epternacensis

 

The Codex Aureus of Echternach(Codex aureus Epternacensis) is an 11th-century illuminated Gospel Book, created in the approximate period 1030-1050, with a re-used front cover from around the 980s. It is now in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

The manuscript contains the Vulgate versions of the four gospels plus prefatory matter including the Eusebian canon tables, and is a major example of Ottonian illumination, though the manuscript, as opposed to the cover, probably falls just outside the end of rule by the Ottonian dynasty. It was produced at the Abbey of Echternach under the direction of Abbot Humbert.

The manuscript has 136 folios which measure 446 mm by 310 mm. It is one of the most lavishly illuminated Ottonian manuscripts. It contains over 60 decorative pages including 16 full page miniatures, 9 full page initials, 5 evangelist portraits, 10 decorated pages of canon tables, and 16 half-page initials. In addition there are 503 smaller initials, and pages painted to resemble textiles. The entire text is written in gold ink.

Visit Wikipedia for more on Codex Aureus.

 

I liked this simple reflection on the gospel passage that I found from the Boston Catholic Journal:

“We are familiar with the story. It can be summarized in a sentence: Jesus heals ten lepers and only one comes back to say, “Thank You.”

Deceptively simple, yes?

Very clearly, it is a story about ingratitude.

It is also, however, a story about obsession. We are so obsessed with the gift that we are forgetful of the Giver. We are overwhelmed with our good fortune and so utterly absorbed in it, obsessed with it, that we have forgotten not only the Giver — but our own genuine poverty apart from Him.

We do not see the Giver for the gift.

It is an odd permutation: the Giver is God. The gift is from God. And then the gift itself is deflected from God — becoming a good greater than God.

The problem is that the gift is, well … a gift.

It is not ours.

It is His!

Our ingratitude is, sadly, quite common. What is uncommon is our obsession, our susceptibility to utter self-absorption — something that is both striking and revealing:

Our capacity for happiness apart from God is only revealed when we are given something — and ourunhappiness apart from God when we are deprived of it.

And we are blind to both.

But take heart. Jesus also healed the blind …”

Writing on the Wall

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his lords,

with whom he drank.
Under the influence of the wine,
he ordered the gold and silver vessels
which Nebuchadnezzar, his father,
had taken from the temple in Jerusalem,
to be brought in so that the king, his lords,
his wives and his entertainers might drink from them.
When the gold and silver vessels
taken from the house of God in Jerusalem had been brought in,
and while the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers
were drinking wine from them,
they praised their gods of gold and silver,
bronze and iron, wood and stone.

Suddenly, opposite the lampstand,
the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace.
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook,
and his knees knocked.

Then Daniel was brought into the presence of the king.
The king asked him, “Are you the Daniel, the Jewish exile,
whom my father, the king, brought from Judah?
I have heard that the Spirit of God is in you,
that you possess brilliant knowledge and extraordinary wisdom.
I have heard that you can interpret dreams and solve difficulties;
if you are able to read the writing and tell me what it means,
you shall be clothed in purple,
wear a gold collar about your neck,
and be third in the government of the kingdom.”

Daniel answered the king:
“You may keep your gifts, or give your presents to someone else;
but the writing I will read for you, O king,
and tell you what it means.
You have rebelled against the Lord of heaven.
You had the vessels of his temple brought before you,
so that you and your nobles, your wives and your entertainers,
might drink wine from them;
and you praised the gods of silver and gold,
bronze and iron, wood and stone,
that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence.
But the God in whose hand is your life breath
and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.
By him were the wrist and hand sent, and the writing set down.

“This is the writing that was inscribed:
MENE, TEKEL, and PERES.
These words mean:
MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it;
TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting;
PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Danie, Chapter 5

 

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Belshazzar’s Feast, Rembrandt, circa 1636-38, National Gallery, London

From the National Gallery website:

Rembrandt’s source for this painting, the Old Testament Book of Daniel (5: 1-6, 25-8), tells of a banquet Belshazzar, King of Babylon, gave for his nobles. At this banquet he blasphemously served wine in the sacred vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rembrandt shows the moment when a divine hand appeared and wrote on the wall a phrase only Daniel could decipher. When transliterated the inscription reads: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation: ‘God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.’ That very night Belshazzar was slain.

Rembrandt derived the form of Hebrew inscription from a book by his friend, the learned Rabbi and printer, Menasseh ben Israel, yet mistranscribed one of the characters and arranged them in columns, rather than right to left, as Hebrew is written. The picture, painted in about 1635, is an example of Rembrandt’s attempt to establish himself as a painter of large-scale Baroque history paintings.

Rembrandt’s handling of painting materials and his painting technique in Belshazzar’s Feast are both exceptional and do not compare to any of his other works. The palette of this painting is unusually rich encompassing such pigments as vermilion, smalt, lead-tin-yellow, yellow and red lakes, ochres and azurite.

 

Daniel Interpreting the Dream of Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar:

“In your vision, O king, you saw a statue,
very large and exceedingly bright,
terrifying in appearance as it stood before you.
The head of the statue was pure gold,
its chest and arms were silver,
its belly and thighs bronze, the legs iron,
its feet partly iron and partly tile.
While you looked at the statue,
a stone which was hewn from a mountain
without a hand being put to it,
struck its iron and tile feet, breaking them in pieces.
The iron, tile, bronze, silver, and gold all crumbled at once,
fine as the chaff on the threshing floor in summer,
and the wind blew them away without leaving a trace.
But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain
and filled the whole earth.

“This was the dream;
the interpretation we shall also give in the king’s presence.
You, O king, are the king of kings;
to you the God of heaven
has given dominion and strength, power and glory;
men, wild beasts, and birds of the air, wherever they may dwell,
he has handed over to you, making you ruler over them all;
you are the head of gold.
Another kingdom shall take your place, inferior to yours,
then a third kingdom, of bronze,
which shall rule over the whole earth.
There shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron;
it shall break in pieces and subdue all these others,
just as iron breaks in pieces and crushes everything else.
The feet and toes you saw, partly of potter’s tile and partly of iron,
mean that it shall be a divided kingdom,
but yet have some of the hardness of iron.
As you saw the iron mixed with clay tile,
and the toes partly iron and partly tile,
the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
The iron mixed with clay tile
means that they shall seal their alliances by intermarriage,
but they shall not stay united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
In the lifetime of those kings
the God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people;
rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms
and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.
That is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain
without a hand being put to it,
which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold.
The great God has revealed to the king what shall be in the future;
this is exactly what you dreamed, and its meaning is sure.”

Daniel 2:31-45

 

Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's First Dream, Mattia Pretti

Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream, Mattia Preti

 

We’ve looked at another work by Mattia Preti, his painting of John the Baptist.

From the Getty Museum website:

Although Mattia Preti (1613 – 1699) spent much of his life elsewhere, he is traditionally associated with the city of Naples. Together with Luca Giordano, Preti extended the reputation of Neapolitan painting throughout Italy and internationally. Originally from Calabria in southern Italy, Preti went to Rome around 1630, sharing a room with his brother Gregorio who had arrived about two years earlier. Gregorio may have been Mattia’s principal teacher, although they both also studied at the Accademia di San Luca.

While in Rome during the 1630s and 1640s, Preti achieved his first success. His easel paintings, particularly his early ones, are painted in the style of Caravaggio. His mature style, which reached its epitome in Naples from 1653 to 1660, is intensely dramatic, uniting a Caravaggesque realism and expressive chiaroscuro with the grandeur and theatricality of Venetian artists like Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto. In 1661 Preti went to the island of Malta, where he remained for the rest of his life. While receiving most of the island’s church commissions, he also worked for patrons from across Europe. Preti’s contributions to the late Baroque style in Naples greatly inspired later painters, notably Francesco Solimena.

The Zeal of Mattathias

 

The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy
came to the city of Modein to organize the sacrifices.
Many of Israel joined them,
but Mattathias and his sons gathered in a group apart.
Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias:
“You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city,
supported by sons and kin.
Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command,
as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah
and those who are left in Jerusalem have done.
Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends,
and shall be enriched with silver and gold and many gifts.”
But Mattathias answered in a loud voice:
“Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him,
so that each forsakes the religion of his fathers
and consents to the king’s orders,
yet I and my sons and my kin
will keep to the covenant of our fathers.
God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments.
We will not obey the words of the king
nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree.”

As he finished saying these words,
a certain Jew came forward in the sight of all
to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein
according to the king’s order.
When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal;
his heart was moved and his just fury was aroused;
he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar.
At the same time, he also killed the messenger of the king
who was forcing them to sacrifice,
and he tore down the altar.
Thus he showed his zeal for the law,
just as Phinehas did with Zimri, son of Salu.

Then Mattathias went through the city shouting,
“Let everyone who is zealous for the law
and who stands by the covenant follow after me!”
Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons,
leaving behind in the city all their possessions.
Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom
went out into the desert to settle there.

1 Maccabees 2:15-29

Mattathias Slays the Apostate, Gustave Dore Bible illustrations

Mattathias Slays the Apostate, Gustave Dore Bible illustrations, 1865

 

From Catholic Resources

The Artist:

Gustave Doré was an Alsacian artist who specialized in book illustrations.  Born in Strasbourg, France, on January 6, 1832, he began his artistic career in Paris when he was only 15 years old.  His drawings and illustrations were groundbreaking and very popular, although he never won the acclaim of the artistic elite in France.  In his later years, he spent much time in London, where he also opened a very popular gallery.  He died on January 23, 1883, at the age of 51.

Doré is probably most famous for his depictions of numerous scenes from the Bible, but he also produced illustrations for many other books, including Milton, Dante, La Fontaine, Don Quixote, Baron Munchhausen, etc.  [See below for links to websites with a more detailed biography and some reproductions of his non-biblical illustrations and paintings.]

The Bible Illustrations:

Doré and the artisans in his studios produced hundreds of different woodcuts illustrating scenes from a wide variety of biblical stories from both the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) and the New Testament.

His biblical illustrations were first published in 1865 in France and reprinted in the late 1860’s in various German, English, and other editions. These large-folio multi-volume Bibles (with about 240 illustrations each) were very heavy and expensive, but smaller editions were soon also published. Most of the illustrations are identical in the various editions, but some illustrations are not found in certain language editions, and in other cases as slightly different illustration is found for the same biblical passage.

Doré’s illustrations were extremely popular in both Europe and America in the last decades of the nineteenth century. For example, over 1.5 million people visited the Doré Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1896.  Several publishers also printed smaller collections of his biblical illustrations without the complete text of the Bible in so-called “Doré Bible Gallery” editions.

His artistic style greatly influenced some of the early biblical films, especially those of D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. In fact, some of the scenes from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923 & 1956) look remarkably similar to the corresponding biblical illustration by Doré.