Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Millais and the Parables: Persistent Widow (p. 3)

Millais's representation of the Persistent Widow / Unjust Judge is one of his best images on the parables: 

Photo taken at the Tate Britain, London

In this image, the judge sits with his legs crossed at the ankles on a throne-like cushioned chair. The judge wears fine clothes, pointed slippers, and an apparently bejeweled hat. His right hand pushes the woman away, and his left hand is upraised, in effect telling her to stop, that he has heard enough, and that his answer is no. His head turns away from her, and his face reflects his haughty, superior disdain for her; he smiles or perhaps even derisively laughs at her desperate pleas.

The woman kneels by his feet on the right side of his chair, her hands clasped in supplication, and her right arm reaches over the judge’s right knee. Her face reveals her humble pleas, and her eyes remain steadily focused on the unjust judge, a hint that she will persevere, no matter how much the judge mocks or ignores her.

The faces are what stand out the most in the image, especially the mocking, contemptuous dismissal of the woman reflected in the judge’s face, and the pleading, desperate yet insistent face of the woman for whom the judge is her last recourse. There is no sign yet that the judge will relent, but the woman will not be deterred, even with the guard trying to drag her away in light of the judge’s dismissal of her. She kneels alone, with no one, it appears, willing to help her or to take her side, which accentuates her isolation and desperation. 

In the foreground, on the right side, we see a secretary sitting on a cushion on the floor just to the left of the judge’s chair. He holds a tablet on his lap and a writing instrument in his right hand. He looks up at the woman expectantly and, perhaps, sympathetically, an emotion lacking from most of the others in the image. He waits to see what if anything will happen.

A guard, on the far left, looms over the woman and grabs her with both his hands to pull her away from the judge. Just to the right of the guard is a servant holding a fan; like the cushions on the chair, the judge has every comfort available to him. The servant looks at the judge, and he shares the judge’s amusement at the woman’s predicament, although his smile is not as pronounced as the judge’s—his teeth do not show. There is no trace of sympathy in his smiling face. Another man stands just beside him. He also smiles with some amusement, but instead of looking at the judge, he looks at the woman. His hand is raised, seemingly to direct the woman to leave the judge’s presence.

Another young man peers over the top of the judge’s chair. We only see his face and one hand on the top of the chair. Apparently the young man has to struggle to gain a peek at what is going on. His face also betrays a slight sense of amusement. No one yet shows any interest in helping the poor widow.

Two men, however, stand in the background, both with full, long beards and no trace of amusement on their faces. One man stands in profile, and he apparently looks at the widow as she attempts to plead her case or, perhaps, his eyes merely look down in sadness. The other man looks directly at the viewers, in effect challenging them if not accusing them: "What will you do?" he seems to ask. How will you respond to the injustice taking place against this woman? Or he may be reminding viewers that they too must be persistent, which eventually results in the parable in a happy ending for the widow and, as Luke 18:6-8 promises, God’s bringing justice to those who cry out for it “day and night.” 

Millais later used this print as a starting point to recreate the parable in watercolor; a total of twelve images were developed into watercolors, and fourteen of the designs were used as models for stained-glass windows for the church of Millais’s father-in-law in Perth. One large oil painting of The Parable of the Lost Piece of Money (1862) was lost in a gas explosion and fire, but an oil painting of The Parable of the Tares (1865) is still extant (Barlow 2005: 94).

Millais’s representations of the parables were not universally acclaimed, a fact that I will discuss briefly in my next post (and to which I will respond a bit). I also will include several other photos of Millais's parable prints from the Tate Britain in London.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Millais and the Parables (p. 2)

John Everett Millais, The Prodigal Son (1864)
The prints for the Millais and Dalziel book, The Parables of Our Lord, were created through a process of engraving a design onto a section of boxwood—a hard wood that can withstand much pressure, which also made it last longer in the printing process (i.e., you could make many more prints from the engraving before the wood "wore out"). It is the reverse of the “intaglio process” of engraving on metal; in this process the engraver gouges out (with a sharp-edged tool like a “burin” or “graver”) all the parts that are not to appear in the print and leaves the areas that are used to create the image. Millais usually drew his designs in reverse directly on the block of boxwood, and the Dalziels carved the images on the blocks of wood (Millais 1975: ix, xii).

Millais began the project with three parables: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Pharisee and the Publican. All three images contain striking if not haunting details: the wounded man’s arm curls around the Samaritan, as the Samaritan begins to assist him (the image is in my previous post). The Publican bows his head in shame in the shadows of a column, while the Pharisee stands proudly in the bright sunlight looking up toward heaven. The prodigal returns home to his father. He kneels, barefoot and dressed only in a fur loincloth, while the father, clad with sandals and dressed in a finely-engraved robe, bends over to embrace him. The reclining cattle in the background assure the presence of a fatted calf and reflect the comforting fact that the son is indeed welcomed back home by his father. Millais even strove to represent the fingernails on their hands with great “Delicasy” (sic), although, oddly enough, the heads of the father and the son are almost indistinguishable (Millais 1975: xix). One assumes, however, that the head with white hair is indeed the father, but the effect is rather disconcerting as one tries to figure out which head is which.

Millais was especially proud of his work on the Unjust Judge/Importunate Widow. In a 1859 letter to the Dalziels, he wrote: “Nothing can be more exquisitely rendered than the ‘Importunate Widow’ . . . . It appears to me even better cut than any of the others I have ever seen” (Millais: 1975: xix-xx).

The next post will discuss that print in detail.

Book update: Some of my former students who (claim to) read this blog tell me that they want to hear a bit more about the process of writing the book. I will write an update concerning that soon. One bit of news: since I have returned from the UK, I have written sections on both Luther and Calvin on the parables. For Luther, I concentrated on his sermons. For Calvin, I primarily used his commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels. Right now I am writing on Rembrandt and currently am discussing the curious dog in the 1633 etching, The Good Samaritan. More on this etching and also a more extensive book update soon.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

John Everett Millais (Introduction)

John Everett Millais, The Good Samaritan

John Everett Millais (1829-1896)

In this initial post I will cover a bit of Millais's life and art. In the next post, I will discuss how the prints on the parables were created. Then in later posts I will discuss the prints themselves--a couple in detail and a few very briefly. Here goes:
John Everett Millais was born in 1829 in Southhampton, England. He was the youngest child of a moderately wealthy family that recognized his artistic talents very early. A child prodigy, Millais worked at the British Museum before he was ten and won a Silver Medal of Society of Arts for a drawing. Millais, at eleven, was the youngest student ever allowed to enroll in the Royalty Academy Schools (1840), and he quickly became a star pupil who won medals both for drawing (1843) and for painting (1847). While still a teenager, he also had a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1846 (Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru).
In 1848, Millais was one of the founding members, along with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), a group of disenchanted young artists and writers—aged 19 to 22—who believed that art since Raphael was in need of reform. Art since Raphael, they believed, had incorrectly sought beauty through idealization, and this resulted in an artificial and sentimental aesthetic. The PRB attempted to return to the sincerity and simplicity of early Italian (pre-Raphael) “truthful” mode of painting that was “natural and sincere” (Adams 2007: 760). As Rossetti’s brother (W. M. Rossetti) described in 1895, the PRM attempted to:
  • Have genuine ideas to express.
  • Study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them.
  • Sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote. 
  • And, most indispensable of all: Produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

Hunt summed it up this way: “In short, what we needed was a new and bolder English art that turned the minds of men to good reflection” (des Cars 2000: 23).
This philosophy resulted in works of art that illustrated a fidelity to nature not only through a detailed if not literal-minded attention in its representation but also a “clear, bright, sharp-focus technique” combined with a “moral seriousness” in their choice of themes to portray (Chilvers 2004: 563).

The PRB was important for Millais's development as an artist, but it was only of passing significance in his career that continued to change and develop in new directions. As an 1896 eulogy of Millais proclaimed: “The great characteristic of his whole life was an extraordinary activity, a constant striving to produce great results, and to strike out for himself new directions in which to exercise his exceptional powers” (Rosenfeld and Smith 2007: 14).

Millais eventually became extraordinarily successful: his works were extremely popular, he became very wealthy, and he was the first British artist to earn a hereditary title. Yet his early work as a member of the PRB attracted much criticism, and later in his career others attacked his works as compromising quality for popularity.

Millais’s first religious work of art, Christ in the House of His Parents, created a storm of controversy, because—with its rejection of the norm since Raphael—it deviated from the idealized portraits of Jesus and his family. The painting incorporates the symmetry of early Renaissance works with an abundance of realistic details—down to the wood shavings on the ground, the dirty toenails of the bare feet, the bulging veins in Joseph’s arms, and other everyday features (e.g., the background came from a carpenter’s shop on Oxford Street in London). These aspects of the painting were found to be utterly offensive by many viewers, despite the painting's clear theological message. The Times of London called it “revolting”: “The attempt to associate the holy family with the meanest details of a carpenter’s shop, with no conceivable omission of misery, of dirt, of even disease, all finished with the same loathsome minuteness, is disgusting . . . .” Charles Dickens was particularly offended, calling the depiction of the young Jesus as “hideous” and Mary as “so horrible in her ugliness . . . that she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin-shop in England . . . ,” and he described the painting as “mean, odious, revolting, and repulsive” (des Cars 2000: 98; later Millais and Dickens would become friends).

I won't discuss the painting in details, but note the wound on Jesus' hand, the blood on his foot, John the Baptist bringing water, the dove, the symbolic "sheep," and so forth:

John Everett Millais, Christ in the House of His Parents

John Ruskin, however, came to the defense of the PRM. Ruskin, at the time, was the most influential art critic in England, and his vigorous defense of the PRM helped turn the tide in their favor. 

By 1853, however, the PRM was virtually dissolved, and Millais experimented with other modes of artistic expression. In the 1850s, he moved from the brilliantly-colored and minutely-detailed works in the PRM style to a broader, more loose, and more fluent style of painting, In the 1850s. As noted above, Millais became the most popular artist of his day, although some critics would claim that he sacrificed artistic authenticity for fame and fortune (including Ruskin); he himself noted that with a family to support, he could no longer afford to work in a way that brought him little income. His subjects, then, became more sentimental and told a “good story” that would appeal to the broader public, such as charming portraits of children and scenes of family life and book illustrations (Chilvers 2004: 468; Rosenfeld and Smith 2008: 50).

By the late 1850s, Millais had become the foremost illustrator of books and magazines in England. In 1857, at the age of twenty-eight, Millais accepted a commission from the Dalziel brothers (actually three brothers and a sister) to illustrate the book, The Parables of Our Lord. The commission was for Millais to produce thirty images in a few months, but—even after the project was reduced from thirty to twenty images, which resulted in some blank pages in the book (e.g., an image of the Mustard Seed parable does not appear)—the project took Millais six years to complete. The book finally appeared in 1863. Millais explained the delay in this way:
I can do ordinary illustrations as quickly as most men, but these designs can scarcely be regarded in this same light—each Parable I illustrate perhaps a dozen times before I fix, and the hidden Treasure I have altered upon the wood at least six times (Rosenfeld and Smith 2007: 95).

Part of the delay also was caused by the fact that Millais was working on a number of other projects at the same time, in order to help support his family. Millais was paid £20—£1 per image, whereas he had just received £15 per image for illustrations of a book of Tennyson’s poems—for the project that he called (before he started it!) his “labour of love.”

In the next post, I will write more on the process of how Millais and the Dalziels created these images of the parables. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Millais is up next, and a personal note

John Everett Millais, The Hidden Treasure

On my trip to England last month, I scheduled an appointment in the Prints and Drawing Room at Tate Britain in London for a private viewing of twelve prints from John Everett Millais on the parables. I am grateful to Christine Kurpiel who retrieved and set up the prints for me. These twelve prints are for a book Millais illustrated for the Dalziel brothers, and previously on this blog I included three postings from a student paper on two of the prints. Over the next two weeks, I will talk about the prints some more and include discussions of several more of them. I am including a section in the book on Millais's works, and I am focusing particularly on the parable of the Unjust Judge, a print that is exceedingly striking (H/T to Chris Rowland).

But first, a personal word:

Today is our wedding anniversary, and although the following is not connected to the parables, I want to post the last paragraph of the Preface in my recent book, James Through the Centuries. The part connected to our anniversary is in the very last sentence:
This volume is dedicated to the memory of two of the most wonderful human beings I have ever known: Aurelia Stookey and Mitchell Stookey. They, more than anyone I know, were “doers of the word,” spending much of their time either actively working for the well-being of others or thinking about what actions they could take to promote the well-being of others. Aurelia and Mitchell Stookey epitomized the wisdom (from above) and understanding mentioned in James 3:13, and their good lives were filled with good works done in “gentleness born of wisdom.” They were also exceedingly gracious, loving, and kind, and they welcomed me into their family with open arms. They, justifiably, were incredibly proud of their children—Donald, Charlyn, Patricia, Mary Jane, Jerry, Tom, Joe, and Rita—their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren (too numerous to mention here). I am grateful for the years that I was able to be with them and to learn from them, and I am proud to be a member of their wonderful family. Most of all, I am thankful for their eighth child, the greatest gift I have ever received.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Prodigal Son and LeBron James: Camden said it first

Immediately after Sports Illustrated published the letter from LeBron James about returning to Cleveland to play basketball, our son Camden walked into my (home) office and said that I needed to include a section in my reception history of the parables book about LeBron James as a classic "prodigal son." I demurred.

At lunch today, Camden googled "Lebron James prodigal son" and marveled at how many hits there were.

For the record, Camden said it first.

Here are some I just found when I googled it:

The Cleveland Plain Dealer (the "prodigal king"?)

The Irish Times (The Irish Times?)

One (in a political journal) that predicted the return of the "prodigal" James over a year ago, in March 2013.

And many, many others.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is indeed found everywhere over the centuries since Jesus said it, and it has been applied in a multiplicity of ways. 

It reminds me of how I started my lecture at Oxford University three weeks ago:

This lecture stems from my current book project on the reception history of the parables. This introductory textbook will include ~50 examples of the “afterlives” of parables. In those 50 or so examples, I will include voices that are considered important, voices that are often not heard, and ones that are unusual or distinctive, ranging from the fairly famous to the fairly obscure. The selection process is difficult, because the book will include interpretations of as many different parables as possible, but today I want to share with you five examples of some things I have found on just one parable, the Prodigal Son, one of the best loved and most frequently interpreted parables.

I have a lot from which to choose, because you can find examples of the prodigal son pattern almost anywhere. Some can serve as positive examples (John Newton):

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me.I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now I see.

Other examples would not be seen as positive—this one is a football reference, in honor of the World Cup (George Best):

I spent a lot of money on booze, birds, and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.

Back to the World Cup Final now . . . .

Ely Cathedral and the Parables (#3)

Ely Cathedral definitely is one of the cathedrals in England that should be on any tour of churches/ cathedrals in England. The cathedrals/churches/abbeys in London are the most famous (Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, Southwark [famous starting point for pilgrims to Canterbury], Westminster Cathedral), but there are many cathedrals/churches outside of London that are well worth visits: Salisbury, York Minster, Canterbury, Durham, Chichester, Ely, and others (and don't miss King's College Chapel in Cambridge). I have not yet visited others that I have heard great things about: Gloucester, Winchester, Lincoln, Exeter, etc. 

Here are some thoughts about one more stained-glass window in Ely Cathedral that portrays New Testament parables.

This window depicts three parables, and it appears in the South aisle of the Choir and Nave (picture above). It is the first window by Bishop West's Chapel in the Southeast corner of the cathedral. This window was created by Clayton and Bell in memory of Ashley Sparke, "who was killed in the celebrated cavalry charge at Balaclava in 1854 (Ely Cathedral Handbook 1904: 183). 

Below is a close-up of the two parables found at the bottom of the window. The story of each parable is found in four scenes from left to right. I will discuss the window below the photo:

The four scenes at the bottom of the window represent (as in another window discussed in the previous post) the parable of the Wheat at the Tares (Matt 13:24-30). Working from left to right at the bottom: (1) the "good seed" (wheat) is sown in the field (13:24); (2) the slaves discuss with the master what to do (13:27-28); (3 & 4); the master gives his orders about what to do, and the eventual harvest is shown as well.

The middle set of four images portray the parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30). Once again, the story is told from left to right: (1) the three slaves receive their talents (Matt 25:14-15); (2) when the master returns, the three slaves have to give their accounting--on the right you can see the slave who dug a hole and buried the master's money (25:19); (3) we see the master commending one of the first two slaves (probably the second), while the third slave waits on the left (25:20-23); (4) the master condemns the third "wicked and lazy" slave to "the outer darkness" (25:24-30).

Here is a photo of the middle section and the top section, which I will discuss below the photo:   

The four scenes at the top of the window seem to me to be a different parable than some of the labels I have seen published elsewhere. It obviously tells the story in the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12; Matt 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19; Thomas 65-66). I will cite the Matthean version: (1) the landowner planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, and built a tower the tower (21:33); (2) he then leased it out to tenants when he went to another country (21:34); (3) when the harvest was ready he sent slaves to collect "his" produce, but the tenants beat one, killed another, and stoned another (this is repeated in verse 36). In the window, we can see one being beaten with a stick, the second being killed with an axe, and the third one already appears to be dead from stoning (21:35-36); (4) The landowner then sends his son, but the tenants "seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him." In the window, the son is tied to a tree, and he is being attacked by two men, one with a knife and the other with an axe (21:37-39).

Conclusion: There are some other windows in the cathedral that portray some parables, but I will stop here. I will leave you instead with a photo of another window. Try to see if you can guess which Hebrew Bible story it represents:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ely Cathedral and the Parables (#2)

This post is about two stained-glass windows in Ely Cathedral that are not too far from Bishop Alcock's Chapel that I mentioned in my previous post (the Northeast corner at the front of the cathedral).

Here is a look at the entirety of the first window (this is the best picture my iPhone would take). This window is in memory of Eliza Fardell (d. 1861), the wife of Canon H. Fardell. The window illustrates three parables and one miracle (the two windows previous to this one illustrate several miracles):

The photo below shows the two stories on the left side of the window. The left side portrays the parable of the Wheat and the Tares. The story starts from the bottom and shows the seeds being sown. The man in the background looks at the viewers as if to invite them into the story. The next scene up shows the deliberation over what to do with the tares, and it is decided that the separation should wait until the harvest. The harvest (i.e., the Last Judgment) is then portrayed in the top scene.

The parable of the Workers of the Vineyard is portrayed next, with the man hiring two workers in the first scene (at the bottom). The workers are then shown working at their tasks (e.g., digging), and the final scene at the top shows the owner of the vineyard explaining that it is his decision what to pay each worker:

The other side of the window starts with the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. The first shows the shepherd taking care of the sheep, and the second shows him finding the one lost sheep. The third and final scene shows him carrying the sheep back (in the classic Greco-Roman image of the ram bearer (Greek kriophoros; κριοφόρος; see my posts on "The Good Shepherd in Early Christian Art" from January 2014). Other people are included in this scene to demonstrate that a celebration over the recovery of the lost sheep is about to begin.

The right side of the window shows the miracle of the miraculous draught of fish (most likely the Lukan version of the story). Peter throws out the net; they pull the net in; the huge catch of fish is shown:

The next window is a memorial to Canon Fardell (d. 1864). It shows the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-12) on the left and then examples of ministry to those in need mentioned in the Sheep and Goats parable (Matthew 25:31-46).

The story of the Ten Virgins begins at the bottom left: (1) The bridegroom is delayed, and all of the maidens are sleeping until they are awakened with the announcement that the bridegroom has arrived (Matt 25:5-6). (2) The maidens rose and trimmed their lamps (Matt 25:7). (3) at the bottom right, the foolish ones realize that they don't have enough oil and ask the wise for some (Matt 25:8). (4) at the middle right, the foolish ones go to buy more oil for their lamps (Matt 25:10). (5) at the top left, the bridegroom (Jesus) comes and the wise ones went with him into the feast, and the door was shut behind them (Matt. 25:10). (6) at the top right, the foolish ones are outside the door of the wedding feast (Matt 25:11-12):

The following photo shows acts described in the parable of the Sheep and Goats. I will start at the bottom left and work my way up from left to right: (1) I was hungry, and you gave me food (Matt 25:35). (2) bottom right: I was thirsty and you gave me drink. (3) I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). (4) middle right: I was naked and you clothed me (Matt 25:36). 
(5) I was sick and you visited me (Matt 25:36). (6) top right: I was in prison and you came to me (Matt 25:36): 

Although I have photos of one more window from Ely Cathedral, I will wait to discuss that one in my next post. The message of Matt 25:35-36 seems like the best place to end this post: how we are supposed to treat other human beings in need. 

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman   Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” is my favorite Christmas poem, and I p...