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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Head of Christ

(The Head of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669,
Dutch painter, printmaker, and draughtsman)

One of the more challenging subjects to put on canvas must surely be Jesus of Nazareth. There are no actual images of him, likenesses made in his lifetime; and yet, there are many images of him, as envisioned by various artists across the centuries.

The Christian faith teaches that Jesus Christ is both Son of God and Son of Man. The artists point to his divinity by adding a shining halo, and to his nature as man by drawing a beard and shoulder-length hair. Both depictions are so familiar that we would recognize him in pictures of almost any setting.

In this painting of Jesus the man, Rembrandt applied the traditional characteristics in composing his face. (His model was a young man from the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam.) But his rendering makes the image new. Rembrandt leads us to a richer understanding of his subject. A skilled portraitist is also a biographer.


What he sees he takes in.
Every human sorrow
fuels the fire that burns
low and steady
in his open heart.

He looked at the leper like this,
imagining the man’s life
before he changed it.

He looked at the centurion and saw
what it must be for a father
to watch his child die.

He looked at the woman by the well,
saw her five husbands, and sent her home
with a promise; at the woman caught
in adultery, and did not condemn her;
at the woman weeping at his feet — knowing
she knew him, who walked the dusty earth
unrecognized — and honored her extravagance.

One might live long
just to be looked at once this way,
judged, forgiven, and blessed,
taken in, recognized — a prayer answered
in eyes that meet longing and assuage it:
“Lord, remember me
when you come into your kingdom.”

~ Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, born 1949, American poet and essayist, from Drawn to the Light: Poems on Rembrandt's Religious Paintings

1 comment:

Diane Mayr said...

I like Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's In Quiet Light: On Vermeer's Women. She also has another book called, The Color of Light: Poems on van Gogh's Late Paintings, which I'll have to look for. Good stuff!