Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins: John Everett Millais

I’m taking a bit of a break from John Chrysostom and the parables to highlight the work of an undergraduate student at Oxford College of Emory University. One of the students in my “Portraits of Jesus” course this semester wrote his exegetical paper on the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Mt. 25:1-13) and two images created by John Everett Millais about the parable. He asked to remain anonymous, but he is a second-year Linguistics major. He gave me permission to include parts of his paper on this blog, and I am delighted to share them.

The following italicized sections come from my student’s paper. I’ll start with a section of how he introduced Millais (I’ll insert the image of Christ in the House of His Parents, from the Tate, London):

John Everett Millais, 1829-1896, was an English artist born to a wealthy family in Southampton. He was a child prodigy, being admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1840 at the age of 11 as the youngest ever student. Living in London, he would be a founding member of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. The so-called PRB favored presenting their subjects more realistically than was common in the art of that time. This style had especially serious implications for the portrayal of religious subjects, shown in the controversy over his painting, Christ in the House of his Parents.

Here is the Millais image the paper cites: Christ in the House of His Parents. We used this image (among about 30 others) during the first class session of our “Portraits of Jesus” class to start to discover differing conceptions of Jesus’ “image” and to start our discussions of the implications of those images. You can see the foreshadowing involved: the boy Jesus has cut his hand on a nail, and the blood drips upon his foot, as the boy John the Baptist brings some water (and the sheep symbolize the flock of Christians). As the Tate website notes, Millais used friends and family as models for this painting, and the reaction from the public and newspapers was extremely negative (Charles Dickens was one of those revolted by the way in which Jesus and his family were portrayed, as everyday human beings).

Christ in the House of his Parents, John Everett Millais

The student paper then adds a lot more information about Millais, but I will just cite a snippet more that is more closely connected to the engravings of the Wise and Foolish Virgins parable:

[Millais] is also famous for his many portrayals of beautiful young women, such as the titular character in his masterpiece Ophelia. In addition to literary scenes, he also painted many biblical scenes including many parables. By the end of his career, Millais’ work spanned a large range of expression, from the intellectual, revolutionary paintings of his youth to popular commercial illustrations later on (Riggs).

In the next post (maybe tomorrow, but it's finals week at Emory, so I may be delayed), I will post the section of the paper on Millais's brilliant The Wise Virgins.  

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