David and Bathsheba

 

At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign,
David sent out Joab along with his officers
and the army of Israel,
and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.
David, however, remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David rose from his siesta
and strolled about on the roof of the palace.
From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.

Continue reading

Advertisements

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?

last_judgement_michelangelo.jpg

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.

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

 

rembrandt-belsazar.jpg

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.

 

Jesus Heals

 

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy.
Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking,
“Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?”
But they kept silent; so he took the man and,
after he had healed him, dismissed him.
Then he said to them
“Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern,
would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?”
But they were unable to answer his question.

Luke 14:1-6

 

Jesus Healing the Sick, Rembrandt, etching, 1647, British Museum, London

Jesus Healing the Sick, Rembrandt, etching, 1647, British Museum, London

Though this image shows a different Healing episode than the one in today’s lectionary reading, it really caught my eye.

From the British Museum website:

This was the most famous of Rembrandt’s prints throughout the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century. Its traditional title can be traced back to within a few years of its creation, and a later story holds that Rembrandt himself paid this very high price at auction in order to buy back an impression.

The etching illustrates various incidents from chapter 19 of St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there’ (v. 2). The group on the far left are presumably Pharisees asking Christ about divorce (v. 3-9). A young mother steps up to Christ so that he may lay his hands on her child. Peter thrusts her back, looking to Christ for approval. ‘But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ (v. 14). The variety of poses, facial expressions and gestures give us clues to the character and inner life of over thirty-five individuals in this print. Rembrandt perfected them in a number of preparatory drawings.

The great mass of dark tone above Christ, an effect very difficult to achieve in etching without breaking up the surface of the copper plate, is unprecedented in the history of the medium. The result is one of Rembrandt’s most remarkable and highly finished works.

 

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.

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.

“God, don’t you care?”

How often have we asked that question when we’re in the midst of suffering? The disappointment we feel when things don’t go as we had planned, the pernicious doubts that dog us, the inconsolable grief at the loss of a loved one, the primal fear that we’ve been abandoned, all these can lead us to question whether God actually cares about us. Continue reading

The Hands of the Father

As I’ve written on the About page, The Return of the Prodigal Son, a book by Henri Nouwen in which he writes his profound extended meditation on the painting of that name by Rembrandt, was the inspiration for the creation of this blog. So imagine my excitement and trepidation when I saw that this Saturday’s Gospel reading is that very parable! Excitement because, obviously, I love both the painting and the parable. Trepidation because nothing I could possibly write would come near to the eloquence and profundity of Nouwen’s words. So my solution is simple: I’ll include the words of Henri Nouwen that speak so deeply to my own heart. I hope they’ll speak to yours as well, as they have to millions of others. First things first though. Here is the scriptural passage that is the basis for the painting, from the Gospel of Luke: Continue reading

Queen Esther

My Lord, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. Be mindful of me, O Lord. Give me courage. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord.

This powerful prayer might have been spoken by Queen Esther, the Jewish bride of the Persian king Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes. She had learned that an evil member of court, Haman, had concocted a plot to have the king hang her uncle Mordecai and kill all the Jews in the land. The date for the massacre was determined by casting lots, or pur, hence the Jewish name for this festival is Purim. Esther was persuaded by  Mordecai to try appealing to the king to save her people, though she could lose her own  life in the process when it was revealed that she, too, was a Jew. Continue reading