Monday, December 14, 2015

Biblical Art: Gari Melchers' Nativity

I love art. I love beauty. Despite having been blessed to view the world's most famous art in the top museums, I was not saved during the years of my biggest travels when I viewed them. I wish dearly that I could see again the biblical art I saw then, when I didn't appreciate them, but see them now  through my Christian perspective. Nevertheless, there is some biblical art I view online now that truly moves me.

We are all familiar with the  famous biblical art, such as Da Vinci's Last Supper. There is so much to learn and appreciate by studying Da Vinci's portrayal of the moments during the Last Supper when Jesus announces that one of the Apostles will betray Him. The drama of the scene compounds from left to right as one views the expressions on the faces of the Apostles. Da Vinci sought actual living models and painted actual emotional and psychological reactions to the news Jesus delivered of His coming betrayal on their faces quite vividly. In repose is Christ, and in shadow is Judas. There is more to the painting and you can read about it at the link above or here.


Not much thought of is the scene which is not recorded in the Bible but is assumed to have happened: Adam and Eve discovering the dead body of their son, Abel, whom Cain slew. It is the first recorded human death in the Bible. It pictures the death of the First Son, Jesus. The grief in the painting is palpable, as no doubt the first human parents learned that the wages of their sin certainly is death.The artist is William-Adolphe Bouguereau, a 19th century French painter of high traditionalist style. The painting is aptly called The First Mourning.



Hagar in the Wilderness by Camille Corot is another of the biblical art depictions I enjoy. Hagar's grief, loneliness, yet salvation comes in the tender ministrations from The Angel of the Lord. Here, I'll quote the Metropolitan Museum of Art's synopsis of his painting:

This picture, shown at the Salon of 1835, is the earliest of four large ambitious biblical paintings that Corot exhibited in the 1830s and 1840s. Like the Museum's Destruction of Sodom (1843–44; 29.100.18), it illustrates the story of the family of Abraham, the father of Israel. Hagar, the servant of Abraham's wife Sarah, bore Abraham's son Ishmael. Later, when Isaac was born to Sarah, she drove Hagar and Ishmael into the desert of Beersheba. For this painting, Corot chose the moment of divine salvation of the mother and child (Genesis 21:15–17). Following an old pictorial tradition, Corot has included the angel from an earlier episode in which the pregnant Hagar, expelled by Sarah, was sent back to her by an angel (Genesis 16:7–9).

Now here is another piece of biblical art that I've discovered, thanks to Facebook. I'm so thrilled. Julius Gari Melchers' The Nativity is beautiful and tender. It takes the scene from a different perspective and a different moment in time. We know that usually a nativity scene shows the babe being adored by his parents, the shepherds, animals and sometimes the Wise Men, though they didn't arrive until a year or two later.

But Melchers, a painter of German descent, took the scene from the point of view of immediately after the birth of the Savior. In looking at Mary's pose, one can almost feel her exhaustion, both emotional and physical. Joseph's expression is one of concern and perturbation and near overwhelming responsibility. All among a dirty alley...and yet the Babe's head is aglow with the promise of God having sent the Light into the world. What were Mary and Joseph thinking and feeling then? We can ask them when we get there, but meanwhile, please enjoy this representation of the glorious moment when all was quiet, before heaven shouted with joy and all hell broke loose...of the coming of Jesus Christ the Lamb.

The Nativity


3 comments :

  1. Please update your commentary: Julius Garibaldi Melchers (Gari) was a native of Detroit, Michigan (not Germany). It was his father who was German. Gari was the son of German-born American sculptor Julius Theodore Melchers.

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    1. Hello, thank you for the information. I wrote that Mr Melchers was "a German painter." That is not incorrect. He IS German. More accurately a painter of German descent.If one wants to be fastidiously accurate to the nth degree, and it appears you do, I will add that phraseology to my narrative. I hope you enjoyed the article overall, appreciating the beauty of the point Melchers was making in the painting. Ahem. :)

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