Archives For Looking at Lent

This is my friend, Janet Laisch. I was last week so didn’t get to post it on Holy Thursday. Better late than never…

 

In AD 200, the birth of Christian art represented the new covenant through abstract references to the Last Supper where Christ commanded us, ” to Love one another as I have loved you.”  Christians began making art on the very walls of the catacombs where they buried their dead and among the first brush strokes they painted were grape vines and leaves to express their belief in an afterlife and their belief in Christ’s new commandment. During the second half of the third century, artists began to depict Christ and His disciples reclining at the Last Supper and other agape feasts.  Ancient Christians blurred the lines between eschatological agape feasts and the Last Supper believing that all feasts celebrated agape love as commanded by Christ.

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In the Gospel of John, for theological reasons, John put the Last Supper before the Passover feast from John 13:1; Jesus was killed at the same moment the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple—making Christ the new Passover sacrifice. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, the Last Supper is explicitly identified as the Passover meal from Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7. Early representations corresponded more closely with the Jewish practice of conducting Passover meals round low tables, or no tables at all, with diners semi-reclining on low lounges. The Gospel writers explicitly reference reclining at this meal.  This catacomb fresco (above) shows Christ beardless and young surrounded by disciples and like later Last Supper paintings it represents the moment when Christ says one of you will betray me as the disciples respond to Christ by pointing at themselves and saying is it I? Mark 14.

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At Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo in Ravenna, a sixth century Basilica, mosaics (above) depict men and women processing toward the altar with communal offerings for the Eucharist.  These images reenact communion as it was celebrated at this church and others like it in the sixth century. Just above these processional mosaics are scenes from Christ’s life including an image of the Last Supper where Christ and his disciples recline together in a communal meal with fish and wine on the table.  Christ is the only figure shown with a halo. Just as a typical Roman feast featured diners reclining on couches—propped up on their left elbows—around a central table or a few smaller tables in a dining room or triclinium, early Last Supper representations depict Christ and the disciples reclining as described in the synoptic Gospels: Luke 10:39. Food was generally served in a few communal dishes, in which diners would dip their bread or eat with their hands. Wine flowed freely and was served in bowls.

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 In 1305 Duccio painted this image (above) as part of an altarpiece originally placed in the Siena Cathedral. Beginning in the early Renaissance, artists preferred to represent Christ and the Disciples sitting upright along a communal table with Christ in the center and an elaborate Passover dinner including lamb lay out on the table. Last Supper images continue to reflect traditions of when they were painted rather than Christ and disciples from first century Palestine and Christ and the disciples look more Italian than Middle Eastern.  Judas the betrayer is most likely sitting opposite Christ with his hand reaching toward Christ’s outstretched arm.

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In the Renaissance artists begin to distinguish Judas the betrayer more explicitly from the other disciples as seen in Fra Angelico’s example from 1450 (above).

By the middle Renaissance Last Supper images moved from churches to monasteries as this one by Fra Angelico decorates the Monastery of San Marco in Florence. Fra Angelico’s painting makes clear what Renaissance artists sought to achieve: a clear parallel between the Last Supper and Catholic mass. Disciples sit at the table where only a white table cloth and the Eucharist cup remain. Here, the disciples kneel as Christ distributes the communal wafer and holds a common cup. In the foreground on the left a woman kneels probably the blessed mother, Mary while on the right, Judas is depicted as the only disciple wearing a sinister black halo.

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lstsupMore often Last Supper images like this one by Leonardo da Vinci from 1495 (above) decorated the refractory or monk’s dining room wall throughout the Renaissance.  Artists rendered the figures life size and at eye level so monks could imagine participating in the meal along with Christ.Viewers became so familiar with this drama-charged image and so accustomed to the iconography of Christian art, that they would hardly remember it as a cross-cultural art work. They might even need to be reminded that the Last Supper was an event which involved Jewish people and occurred in Palestine. Judas sits beside Christ and rests his hand on the table as referenced in the Gospel that the one who betrays me rests his hand on the table. Through a carefully delineated under drawing and one point perspective where the vanishing point meets at Christ’s head, Leonardo da Vinci achieved serenity in this scene. This painting marks the calm before the storm of the Reformation, before Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door in 1517 (below).

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In newly-Lutheran parts of Germany, Protestant iconoclasts, sometimes in mobs, physically stripped and defaced countless works of church art. By 1522 Martin Luther recognized art as a valuable educative tool and artists once again created art to instruct viewers.

 

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The German Reformation painter, Luis Cranach the Elder painted this Last Supper in 1547, (above) replacing Leonardo’s long bench with a round table. Jesus is not even placed at the center, but appears on the far left, consistent with the Lutheran practice of distributing the bread and the wine from the side of the altar. Cranach depicts Martin Luther at the Last Supper. Luther symbolized everyman and is taking part in the meal as he receives the cup of wine from a servant.

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As the Counter Reformation warred throughout Catholic Europe, Veronese a celebrated Venetian painter was called before the Inquisition to defend his choices for this rendering of the Last Supper in 1573 (above).  Venice long a trade crossroads attracted people of diverse cultures, so unlike earlier paintings, in addition to Last Supper participants, Veronese decorated the foreground with “foreign” people, a young dwarf holding a parrot, a man with a bloody nose and a dog. When questioned Veronese explained that he liked to adorn with figures of his own imagination to fill any left-over space in the picture. After being asked to remove the dog depicted in the center foreground, Veronese decided instead to rename the image Feast in the House of Levi which ended the controversy.  This Inquisitorial hearing inspired a hilarious Monty Python sketch:
 

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The Pope commissioned works of art as part of the Counter Reformation and Poussin found the Pope and a circle of patrons in Rome interested in stoic philosophy commissioned canvases like this one (above).  Similar to catacomb paintings and early Basilica mosaics, Poussin painted the Palestine tradition of Jesus and the disciples reclining during the Last Supper meal as referenced in the Bible. Poussin’s objective as a classical antiquarian was to study and depict ancient traditions. Washing feet before a meal is an ancient tradition and though not explicitly stated in the synoptic gospels is an understood tradition of the Jewish Palestine. In John 13 , he explicitly states that Christ washes the disciples feet as an act of love and purification. A copper bowl and clean bare feet figure prominently in the foreground referencing Christ washing the disciples’ feet as a way of demonstrating His love for the world. At the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples a new command to love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. One way Jesus demonstrated His love at the Last Supper was to wash his disciples’ feet and take the role of the servant.

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Hundreds more Last Supper images fill the pages of Art History books, many adhered to Leonardo’s format. In 1955 Dali painted the Last Supper (above) in a unique and poignant way where Judas is not included at the modern low stone table. A single glass cup and broken bread adorn the table as the remaining 11 disciples bow their heads in prayer rather than eating or gesturing as commonly depicted in earlier portrayals. Dali created a hologram rendition of Christ who both sits at the table and floats in the baptismal waters below. Christ gestures as if speaking. He points to His body and to the heavens symbolizing his two natures: completely human and completely divine. A third aspect of Christ hovers above to complete the trinity: the Holy Spirit is present above the communion table. As in the Bible the meal takes place in the second floor of a home though all the furnishings are ultra modern and a glass enclosed space reveals a lake and canoes below referencing also when Christ first called the disciples from their fishing jobs to be fishers of men. The placid nature of the water and the color palette give the scene an other-worldly feel. Dali painted in an ultra realistic classical manner that appears almost like a photograph yet he includes many dreamlike impossible details to create a style called surrealism. Dali paints this image as a way to recall Christ’s memory and as a way to depict his view of heaven so it is both an image of the Last Supper and an image of the agape feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.

As varied as these art images of the Last Supper are and as varied as the descriptions of the Last Supper in the synoptic Gospels and John are, we know that Christ invited us all to the table. As Christ said about the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me…I will never again drink this wine until the day I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God.” Christ invites us all to partake in the meal as a foretaste of the feast to come.

Looking at Lent: Lazarus

Jason Micheli —  April 11, 2014 — 1 Comment
This is from Janet Laisch:
When Christians began creating art in about AD 200, Raising of Lazarus scenes still seemed far too pagan. Matisse like art covers catacomb walls with abstract shapes and lines adapting pagan symbols with purposeful variation: Eucharist vines replace acanthus leaves. No crosses yet.  After meeting Christ, Christians refrained from creating art for nearly 200 years not just because of the Old Testament commandment against graven images but also because Christians equated making art with paganism. By the first half of the third century, Old Testament stories decorated the walls of catacombs, especially the Jonah story which could be understood as a precursor to Christ’s resurrection.
About five hundred later, New Testament scenes including the Raising of Lazarus also appear. The earliest versions followed standardized minimal iconography because even then Christians feared worshipping the image and the revelry of making it. The purpose of these early scenes is only meant to remind believers of Christ’s ministry to encourage prayer and worship. The Raising of Lazarus (see below) depicts a larger than life Christ as young, beardless and like a magician holds a wand as he waves it toward a much smaller entombed and completely mummified Lazarus. The perspective is close up without Mary, Martha or a crowd and the scale accentuates Christ’s divinity.

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Once Christianity became the official religion of Rome under Constantine ca AD 312, Christian art changed dramatically from depictions on catacomb walls to elaborate government sponsored mosaic programs covering the walls of Basilicas where Christians worshipped in public. Even in the sixth century, artists depicted the Raising of Lazarus in a similar way: the focus remained on the miracle and relationship between Christ and Lazarus.
Though now believers lingered over details and studied the relationship between many images as part of a larger program of art just as reading about Christ’s ministry is better understood as a whole.  The image below depicts a sixth century mosaic from the Basilica Sant’ Apollinaire Nuovo in Ravenna. The gold background represents the eternal, heavenly space so like God eternal, the image transcends time and reminds the viewer that this NT scene prefigures Christ’s resurrection and our own resurrection.  Lazarus’ face is visible unlike earlier versions in catacombs.

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By the twelfth century, iconography for Raising of Lazarus has changed as seen in the icon (image below) from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai. Now a throng of people fill the space as well. Among the crowd Martha and Mary stand or kneel in prayer while individuals cover their noses disgusted by Lazarus’ pungent death smell. These icons much like the earlier mosaics encourage the viewer to study the image and experience the story as a participant in the crowd. The gold background represents heavenly space and time eternal.

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Even throughout the Renaissance, the iconography changed very little; though artists became increasingly interested in depicting three dimensional space and human emotion. Giotto’s fresco (shown below) from 1305, uniquely shows a disciple, most likely Peter, because of the halo and short cropped beard or Thomas who is specifically mentioned in this Biblical passage touches Lazarus. On Lazarus’ right, two women cover their noses disgusted while Martha and Mary kneel at Christ’s feet. Overall, Giotto conveys stoicism through calm and controlled brushwork.

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In 1609, Caravaggio broke from tradition, heightening the drama by painting Lazarus still dead and almost naked in the center foreground of this oil painting. Martha holds her brother’s head while a man steadies his torso; thus, Caravaggio, followed Pieta iconography instead of Lazarus iconography viewing Lazarus’ Resurrection as a precursor to Christ’s death and ultimate Resurrection.
The Pieta or the pity depicts the deposition from the cross and Mary holding Christ. The stark contrast of light and dark only further dramatizes an already charged emotional scene. Caravaggio also identifies Christ as the Second Adam by borrowing from familiar iconography; Christ extends his arm in the same manner as Adam extends his arm toward God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling.

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Art contemporary to Caravaggio’s includes this Rembrandt etching in which the dramatic use of light and dark is rendered again. Rembrandt’s composition and figural poses became the inspiration for another great Dutch master, Vincent Van Gogh who in 1890 painted a colorful version.

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Van Gogh layered paint so thickly that it resembled carvings for a woodcut and has a three-dimensional sculptural quality. Though he used Rembrandt’s work as inspiration, Van Gogh painted it uniquely his own.  Unlike Rembrandt’s Van Gogh’s is a close-up view cropping out Jesus and the crowd to focus our attention on Lazarus, Martha and Mary who rests at Lazarus’ feet. Christ appears absent; though God’s presence is symbolized through the sun. Van Gogh, the son of a preacher who spent time as a pastor, may have identified with Lazarus’ resurrection as a parallel to his own salvation while convalescing at the mental asylum in St. Remy after the famous incident when Van Gogh cut off part of his ear.

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The Raising of Lazarus is such a popular image for artists as it makes us see that Christ “is the resurrection and the life.” Just as surely as Lazarus had died, Christ resurrected him. Mary and Martha felt so abandoned when Christ waited to return while they mourn their brother’s death without Him, yet while they mourned, Christ had a plan, saying to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go and wake him up.”

When Christ returns, Martha and Mary each rebuke him, “If you would have been here, Lord, my brother would not have died.” The crowd questions Christ a third time, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?”  As believers they know that God can do anything so they ask why Christ didn’t intervene. Christ says, “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Christ says he wants us to “see the full glory of God.”

This story like a microcosm of life shows how we anticipate Christ’s return, how we question death and tragedy like Mary and Martha.  Christ had a greater plan and made his plan known the day he returned. Christ returned; he did not abandon. Christ said “I am the resurrection and the life.” Then Christ resurrected Lazarus. Christ does not only say these powerful words, he proves them and He will again.

christ-and-the-samaritan-woman-at-the-well-1796From Janet Laisch-

When I look at Angelica Kauffman’s version of Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, I imagine what it would be like to speak with Christ face-to-face as the Samaritan woman did about 2000 years ago. In Kauffman’s depiction, she painted herself as the Samaritan woman.  Kauffman’s self portraits resemble the Samaritan woman so much that we may conclude that she identified with her in some significant way. Kauffman was a wealthy upper-middle-class woman who faithfully lived with one husband and began an art career as a child prodigy painting portraits of aristocrats and historical subjects with a moralizing message. She lived in Rome, studied at the Academy and while there learned to revive the harmonizing style of the famous Renaissance painter Raphael in particular. By 1796, she was one of only a few women who sold regularly her historical paintings. For Kauffman, a Neoclassical painter during the Enlightenment period, “reason” overshadowed her faith at times. On the other hand, the Samaritan woman lived in the ancient Roman Empire. After five unsuccessful marriages and while living with a man with whom she was not even married, she met Christ who loved her. Seemingly so opposite, both women were indeed sinners. Both women grappled with their faith. Both women experienced doubt. Christ offered to fill both women with living water so they would never thirst again.

Christ sat and conversed with the Samaritan woman face-to-face and offered her his living water.  The story as told from John 4:5-42 reads
“In Samaria he came to a town named Syhar, which was not far from the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan–so how can you ask me for a drink?” (Jews will not use the same cups and bowls that Samaritans use.) Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water? It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his sons and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?” Jesus answered, “Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring which will provide him with life-giving water and give him eternal life.” “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.” … The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus answered, “I am he, I who am talking with you.” …Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” So they left the town and went to Jesus. …Many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I had ever done.”
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This faith altering conversation takes place at a well recognizing that without clean water life is not sustaining. Christ invites the woman to sit with him asking her for a drink of water, seemingly disinterested in her lower status as a Samaritan woman. To convey this scene, the artist shows both figures seated on the side of a stone well. A gleaming metal vessel for collecting clean water sits between Christ and the woman symbolizing the woman’s need for tangible evidence over her faith in Christ. Painted on a large scale 4 x 5 foot canvas, Kauffman chose to fill the foreground with life size, realistic, and proportional figures of Christ and the Samaritan woman. When we step in front of this canvas, their conversation is at our eye level so that as voyeurs we can easily watch and eavesdrop their every word. The perspective showing these figures close up allows us to see their expressions, their sustained eye contact, and their gestures.

 

Kauffman drew graceful lines which impact how we perceive their conversation. From the Bible passage, we learn that Christ already knows everything about her, some facts about which she is not proud. However, Kauffman painted these two people engaged in conversation rather than in an argument. This image appears fluid and graceful in part because of the decisive, fluid lines Kauffman drew under layers of oil paint. If we were to diagram each figure, the lines would be continuous and deliberate without rigidity or agitation so when we look at this painting, we immediately sense calmness about the Samaritan woman’s spiritual awakening. We feel Christ’s love toward this woman and her recognition that he both knows everything about her and loves her. Christ’s confrontation seems meaningful and caring rather than damaging or harmful.  Kauffman like other Enlightenment painters depicted subjects that convey a moralizing message through a story derived from history. Kauffman recognized this Biblical story is based on historical fact and provides a moralizing lesson that should be valued equally to other historical paintings.

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In addition to drawing graceful lines, Kauffman’s limited realistic color palette conveys a sense of harmony between the figures.  Similar to the famous Renaissance painter Raphael, Kauffman used harmonizing hues derived from primary colors: red, blue and gold mixed with black and white to paint the entire canvas; the palette is limited so we immediately accept the canvas as a unified image and it impacts how we understand their shared respect and love.  An example of Raphael’s palette can be seen in the image below. Both Christ and the Samaritan woman wear bold red and deep blue, drawing our focus first to them. Christ and the Samaritan woman’s skin share the same rosy hue, similar curly auburn hair and hazel eyes–details which also help us read them as unified pair. In addition, the color of the stone well is in the same color family as the gold vessel and gold sash in the woman’s hair. Rather than a golden halo around Christ’s head, the beautiful natural environment in the background denotes the divine on a monumental scale. images-1
In the background, the artist used a less saturated blue hue for the sky and landscape than the vibrant blue hue used for Christ’s cloak and the woman’s hair sash so it turns our attention back to the figures as the main focus. Kauffman like Raphael painted a harmonious background, suggesting a sense of receding space through atmospheric perspective–the blue, hazy mountain range may represent the outskirts of Rome that so fascinated her and other Neoclassical painters. The mountainous landscape created by God resides with the man-made citadel and they do not look incongruous. This harmonious juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane mirror the harmonious conversation between the divine Christ and the worldly Samaraitan woman.

 

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To further this sense of reality, Kauffman represented the people by capturing realistic portraits, including a portrait of herself as the Samaritan woman. An example of one of Kauffman’s many self portraits can be seen below. Both Christ and the Samaritan woman wear garb typical to ancient Rome, masterfully draped on the figure to reveal convincing three dimensional bodily forms beneath them. Their gestures convey meaning beyond a superficial conversation and their interlocking facial expressions share a level of understanding between them. True to this Biblical passage, Kauffman painted the woman engrossed in conversation with Christ. Kauffman plans a unified composition; their body language communicates that each actively listens to the other. Christ and the woman sit turned toward each other with their knees almost touching.  They make eye contact as they speak and listen in turn. By the end of the conversation, she sees the world through Christ’s eyes. She is transformed. Her view of life changes.  Christ knows and loves her recognizing that she has great purpose. Her left arm is open; though her left hand may gesture toward Earth and her right arm clutches her worldly possession. Whereas Christ’s left hand points upward and his right hand rests on his heart. She leans toward Christ–presumably open to changing her mind. The woman at the well and Kauffman herself were far from shy or taciturn. Both women acted in society–Kauffman as a portraitist and history painter competing on equal footing with men. The woman at the well–by the end of the story–urgently shared Christ’s message with the entire town which resulted in a huge growth in Christ’s followers. Both women are nonconformists, acting authentically as themselves.
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Kauffman who studied Raphael’s work also borrowed symbolic gestures from his School of Athens for great purpose. A detail is shown below. In this painting, Raphael juxtaposed two philosophers: Plato on the left and Aristotle on the right  whose opposing views can be summarized through hand gesture, much like Christ on the left and the Samaritan woman on the right. Plato points up because in his philosophy the changing world that we see around us is just a shadow of a higher, truer reality that is eternal and includes goodness and beauty. For Plato, this otherworldly reality is the ultimate reality, and the seat of all truth, beauty, justice, and wisdom.  Whereas Aristotle holds his hand down, since in his philosophy, the only reality is the reality that we can see and experience by sight and touch precisely the reality dismissed by Plato. Aristotle’s Ethics–the book that he holds–emphasized the relationships, justice, friendship, and government of the human world and the need to study it.  Kauffman painted Christ pointing up, similar to Plato’s hand, suggesting that Christ references the eternal unchanging world whereas the woman’s hands match more closely to Aristotle’s hands suggesting that she focused on what could be seen.
From John’s Biblical account of this story, we know that Christ’s love transformed her. The woman felt so deeply loved that she needed to speak about what Christ had shared with her. She told everyone in town about the Messiah–the eternal, unchanging Christ she had met at the well. As a result she helped spread Christ’s message so more people could drink his Living water.

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from Janet Laisch:

Duccio’s Maesta from 1308 depicts stories from Christ’s life for us to contemplate during Lent (see image below). Take a look at your calendar and count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and you’ll realize it comprises more than 40 fasting days of Lent. The early Church designated each Sunday during Lent as a feast day. During Lent we punctuate the fasting with a feast which begins with taking Holy Eucharist each Sunday.

The days leading up to Easter recount Christ’s Passion story beginning with the Thursday before Easter as the Last Supper and Christ’s arrest, Good Friday as Jesus’ Crucifixion and Deposition and Saturday as Christ’s Entombment– all of which Duccio depicted on the back of the Maesta (see main panel below).

Each Sunday feast during Lent provides reprieve from fasting and a reminder of Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Feasts as described in the New Testament: the Wedding at Cana and the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22 represent the importance of celebrating with Christ as heavenly host.

St. Thomas Aquinas described the eschatological interpretation of the banquet likened to the events at the end of time:

“The banquet where you, with Your Son and holy Spirit, are true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to your saints.”

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Using tempra paint on poplar wood, Duccio depicted the Wedding at Cana as part of the Lenten images on the base or predella of the Maesta. Duccio used gold leaf on the architectural features and the background of each image to unify these scenes and to denote the heavenly realm. As baptized believers, we use these images to partake in the life of Christ.

Jesus calls his disciples as shown in Duccio’s image below where Christ calls two brothers Peter (in the boat on the left) and Andrew (in the boat on the right) at the sea of Galilee.

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Jesus performs his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. The biblical story of the Wedding at Cana as recorded exclusively in John says:
“Two days later there was a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine had given out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They are out of wine.” “You must not tell me what to do,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” Jesus’ mother then told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Jews have rules about ritual washing, and for this purpose six stone water jars were there, each one large enough to hold between twenty and thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill these jars with water.”
They filled them to the brim, and then he told them, “Now draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the feast.” They took him the water, which now had turned into wine, and he tasted it. He did not know where this wine had come from (but, of course, the servants who had drawn out the water knew): so he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone else serves the best wine first, and after the guests have drunk a lot, he serves the ordinary wine. But you have kept the best wine until now!”
Jesus performed this first miracle in Cana in Galilee; there he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”
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Next to the image, Calling of the Disciples, Duccio painted the Wedding at Cana. At first look, our eye may be drawn to the figures wearing red, but a viewer from 1300 would have been drawn to the most expensive materials first–the gold leaf background and deep blue paint that Mary and Christ wear. The deep blue paint was produced from precious stones. From the left side of the table, we see Mary and Jesus each with a sacred gold halo. Several of Jesus’ disciples had also been invited to the wedding and sit beside him.
Next to Christ is either a disciple or another wedding guest. Then, we see Peter, identifiable as he is wearing the same blue vestment from the previous image, and a cropped beard and a halo. Two more men wearing red catch our eye–one of whom has a halo and is probably another disciple. Then, next to him, at the far right end of the table sits Andrew. Notice how this figure resembles Andrew from Duccio’s Calling the Disciples image. The white patterned table cloth also catches our eye as a focal point. The meal indeed is important. Much of the food has already been consumed; though, bones, perhaps from a lamb, pieces of bread, knives, six bowls and glasses of ruby red wine remain on the table.

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Duccio captures multiple moments from the biblical story in this picture. The background tells the first part of the story. Mary and Jesus gesture as if in conversation. Their expressions and gestures seem calm as they exchange playful banter. “When the wine had given out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They are out of wine.” “You must not tell me what to do,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” The disciples and other guests look at Christ, presumably awaiting the miracle that Mary described will soon take place.
According to the story, Jesus performed this miracle after Mary’s request, though we don’t know if it is a direct response to her request. Rather it may suggest instead her shared knowledge of the events before they took place.
Mary and Jesus take on their new roles at this Wedding. Wearing blue and gold with halos at the head of the table Mary and Jesus sit in the position of Bride and Groom. Mary as the bride—the second Eve– communicating with Jesus–the bridegroom–the second Adam about the events that will transpire.
Next to Mary is a wine pitcher symbolizing that Mary seeks the new wine of the kingdom. Jesus performs this miracle and Jesus is this wine poured out for all of us. Mary has full faith that Jesus will perform his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana and so tells the servants to “do whatever he commands.”
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Duccio depicted this pivotal moment–as Jesus turns water into wine in the foreground for us to see clearly with our own eyes.  Notice four amphorae vases and two water barrels together equal six liquid containers as described by John. These six vessels hold water and parallel the Genesis story of creation and the six days used to create the world beginning with separating the waters. Two beardless servants carrying barrels pour out clear liquid–water– to fill the amphora vases. Simultaneously another servant pours from an amphorae vase deep red wine into one of the smaller patterned pitchers.
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In the center of the picture, Duccio captures the next sequence in the story. The moment after the water has turned to wine.  A servant pours out the wine to fill glasses with the miraculous red wine. Duccio paints the drinking vessels so we can see the ruby red wine in each of them. Looking at this image we are reminded that Jesus went to parties, drank wine and as host multiplied it for others so everyone was filled.

By turning six jars of water into wine, Jesus first reveals himself as the Messiah to the disciples, to the servants, to all the wedding guests and to us.
Typically the wine is of lesser quality by the end of the night because in Hellenistic culture, as still today, by the end of the night people have had plenty to drink and their palettes dull so they are less discerning about its quality. However, John states in this passage that the best wine is saved for last. From Duccio’s painting, those drinking the wine and pouring the wine look well pleased with its ruby rich color and presumably its taste. Jesus saves the best wine for last and if we want it we need only ask.

From this we might view this image as a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven.

The wedding feast is likened to the kingdom of Heaven and Jesus is the ultimate host who supplies everything needed at the very best quality for his guests even when his people are not always that discerning.
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A later painting of the Wedding at Cana by Veronese depicts a grand party with people of different races found throughout the expansive space. Party goers even get a little rowdy, climbing columns but nothing appears sinister. The attention to fine clothing differentiates most of the participants from Mary and Christ who wear more simple garb and have halos. As a microcosm this image represents that when Jesus performs his first miracle, he reveals himself as the Messiah to all the world. This feast may represent the eschatological view of heaven. The second Adam–Christ– and the second Eve– Mary– invite everyone to this feast where the best is still to come. Christ himself said in Matthew 22, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.”