Religion and Art

Recently I visited the exhibition ‘Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age’ currently showing at the Art Gallery of NSW. It is in its final week – see details here

In the Maronite tradition and in other Eastern traditions iconography has been an essential part of inspiring worship, meditation and learning. Most artists are inspired in some way by the spiritual. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci “Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.”

Art, music and poetry can evoke the spiritual in all of us. I have long been fascinated by Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son and Henri Nouwen’s book inspired by his personal experience of seeing it. While it is not showing, other magnificent pieces inspired by the spiritual were. The paintings have all been sourced from the Rijksmuseum.

The Adoration of the Kings by Hendrick ter Brugghen, (1619) is a beautiful painting depicting the infant Christ. Yet his face is that of an old wise man. He is sitting on the Virgin Mary’s lap and the Magi are presenting him with gifts.

Family scene by Jan Havicksz Steen, (1660 – 1679) picks up on a reoccurring theme in many of the paintings. It focuses on the dangers of excess and attacks on family life. In this painting a child look’s on as adults smoke and drink. The young child is reaching for the smoke pipe alluding to the fact that children learn the habits of their parents. Broken dishes on the floor reflect the brokenness of this family. This painting is a wonderful statement for us to learn from.

Rembrandt refers to scenes from scripture in many of the paintings. The denial of Peter, Christ presented to the people, Abraham sacrificing Isaac and the etching of the three Crosses and Christ Preaching. Reminiscent of our icons, these are truly magnificent. In particular “Christ Preaching” contains the various characters of the Gospels and we are called to examine each of them and reflect on their story. It includes the paralytic, the beggar, the blind man, the Pharisees and the haemorrhaging women. It would be a wonderful exercise for children to encourage them to consider who each character is from the Gospel’s.

We encourage you to take your children out to explore art, music and literature where the spiritual plays a big part. St Ephrem writes “Lord, shed upon our darkened souls the brilliant light of your wisdom so that we may be enlightened and serve you with renewed purity”. Go out into the world and look for Our Lord in beauty and art all around you and ask that he shed His light on your soul.

In Christ

Theresa Simon