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.  

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