The creation of heaven and earth (see figs. 1 and 2), the expulsion of humankind from Paradise (see figs. 10 and 11), Israel's dance around the golden calf as Moses returns from Sinai with the tablets of the Law (see fig. 19), Jacob's wrestling with the angel (see fig. 16) – the Old Testament offers a rich panoply of moments with which artists, even those of our 'secularised' age, are able to grapple and for which they are frequently able to find new, compelling modes of expression.
The same holds true of the material that the New Testament provides. The many parables that Jesus told taken from everyday life, from the lilies of the field (see fig. 2), the good Samaritan (see fig. 40), the wise man who built his house on rock, to the wise virgins and the prodigal son (see fig. 43) and his injunction, "If you do not become like a little child" (see fig. 47), are, even if taken on their own account alone, brilliant visual ideas which are still happily taken up by the masters of graphics and painting today, particularly in modern and contemporary art.
This illustrated volume The Bible in Images presents eighty-two works from the history of western art, from varying regions and periods, created using different techniques, inspired by the themes of the Old and New Testaments¹. Unlike pictorial Bibles such as the Jerusalem Bible², The Bible in Images does not contain the full text of the Bible but features, rather, passages or quotations taken from the Old and New Testaments that inspired the works of art found in its pages or are closely related to them.
The eighty-two works of art selected need to be seen as a collection of examples illustrating this notion of the Bible in images. The number of images selected is not large enough to provide a representative depiction of the themes found in the Bible using examples drawn from the history of art.³
1 In 1978 a first illustrated book on the same topic was presented by the publisher of this volume, a work which drew notably on German art in the 20th century: Christian Art, An Illustrated book with photographs by Ulrich Mack and words by Dr. Ursula Uber, translated into English and French, Hamburg 1978.
2 La Bible de Jérusalem, 20 siècles d'art, la sainte Bible traduite en français sous la direction de l'École biblique de Jérusalem, 3 volumes, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux - Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris 2009, ISBN 978-2-204-09061-2; NB 195571.
The intention of The Bible in Images is rather to show the variety of ways the individual artists have engaged with motifs from the Old and New Testaments and the importance this tradition occupies among artists, especially in our 'secularised' age. Outstanding works such as "Das Abendmahl" (The Last Supper) by Emil Nolde dated 1909 (see fig. 54), Ernst Barlach's "Güstrower Ehrenmal" (Güstrow cenotaph) of 1926–27 (see fig. 83), the Paradise window by Marc Chagall on the north wall of Metz Cathedral from 1963 (see. fig. 7) or the stained glass windows designed by Neo Rauch in St. Elisabeth's chapel in Naumburg Cathedral dated 2007 (see fig. 41) gives us a sense that the art of the 20th and 21st centuries, in particular, has shown the greatest passion and expressiveness in the way it handles the "final questions" and answers.
By and large, the works of art shown have an immediate link with the Biblical text. However, this link takes place within the context of the individual freedom that characterises the artist, against the backdrop of his or her particular experience and viewpoints and of the way they are embedded in the history of their time and culture. Thus the "Kreuztragung" (Carrying of the cross) by Glückstadt-born artist Max Kahlke of 1923 (see fig. 65) is not just a recollection of the death of Jesus but also at the same time an expression of the years of suffering experienced by Max Kahlke as a participant in the Great War 1914–1918. 'Tortured humanity' was a common theme of fine arts during the time in which Max Kahlke created his masterwork.
A postcard sent by the artist to his girlfriend Käthe Saul from 1926, the contents of which are quoted below, seems to provide an indication of the mystical relationship that Max Kahlke developed between his own experience of suffering and the suffering of Jesus: "No human being, profound in God's counsel, / Is so joined to us as he who suffered in dark hours. / If I am to suffer all the thousand hours of the year, / Yet I must stand up again, for in chains they beat you. M."
The woodcut "Der barmherzige Samariter" (The good Samaritan) by Ernst Barlach, created in 1919, (see fig. 40) also reflects the sufferings of the First World War. In contrast to traditional representations, such as that by Jacopo Bassano, where the
3 The art guides L'Ancien Testament of Chiara de Capoa (343 pages) and Le Nouveau Testament of Stefano Zuffi (384 pages) are a step in this direction. Their numerous examples, mainly from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, also include artistic representations of non-canonical texts such as those on Mariology. Translated from Italian into French, published by Éditions Hazan, Paris ISBN 2850258865, Paris 2002 (Old Testament) and ISBN 2850258571, Paris 2003 (New Testament).
focus is on the merciful hand extended to the one in need⁴, or the treatment of the topic by Rodolphe Bresdin, where the assistance provided to the waylaid traveller appears as a participation in the luxuriant growth of God's creation⁵, Barlach's good Samaritan is characterised by an expression of listening and meditation. His sharing of the suffering makes him see "extensive, overarching connections", and so the woodcut, created immediately after the Great War 1914–1918, "can be understood as an appeal for peace in the world".
The coloured pencil drawing "Der Baum Noahs" (Noah's tree) by Gideon Hausmann (see fig. 13), created in 1985, has a special connection with the spirit of the age. It depicts the moment when Noah's ark comes to rest on 'Mount Ararat', the heights of Ararat – and the rainbow as symbol of the new covenant. But the stress of the artistic statement lies not on the traditional theme of the Biblical flood story, the relationship between God and creature, but rather on the important role played by the tree and its leaves in the safe landfall of the ark and its passengers, the dove first and foremost. Very obviously, the artist in full sympathy with the ecological movement of the 1970s wants to draw attention to the shared ecological fate of the creature and the tree, which continues with the end of the flood as a symbol of the new covenant.
A similar situation obtains for Friedrich Dürrenmatt's impressive pen and ink drawing "Vor dem Sturz (Der Turm zu Babel)" (Before the fall (the tower of Babel)) (see fig. 14) dated 1952. While generations of artists have laboured to depict tall and mighty buildings with broad foundations reaching into the clouds in order to convey the notion of the construction of the Tower of Babel as a piece of gigantomaniac architecture⁷, Dürrenmatt with his enormous patchwork tower below which the mountain ranges disappear like tiny models, enters the cosmic age, where it is no longer architecture and statics but the dimensions of space, exploding supernovas and black holes that reveal to humanity it's limits.
These examples illustrate the impact of the spirit of the age on the artist's understanding of the Biblical themes. Just how much the spirit of the age with its attitude towards life and its lifestyle has an effect on the artistic representation of
4 See Jacopo Bassano, "The Good Samaritan", oil, 1550–1570, The National Gallery, London.
5 See Rodolphe Bresdin, "The Good Samaritan", lithograph, 1861.
6 U. Uber in the illustrated volume Christian Art, Hamburg 1978.
7 See for example Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "The Building of the Tower of Babel", oil, 1563, Museum of Art History, Vienna, and: The Holy Bible, Old and New Testament, represented in the famous 230 illustrations by Gustave Doré, Unipart-Verlag, Stuttgart 1985, p. 29, The Tower of Babel.
Biblical themes becomes impressively visible when you look at, for example, some works from the Renaissance.
A work by Paolo Veronese, such as "The Wedding at Cana" in the Louvre, which reflects the ample splendour of Venetian society and impressive architecture that was its setting, might suggest to a visitor lacking art historical "baggage" or a contemporary visitor from a different culture that Jesus lived amidst the extremely wealthy even though his birth in a manger, his upbringing as the son of a carpenter and his life as an itinerant preacher without a fixed and secure abode⁹ would seem to indicate the opposite. However, no such confusion of milieu need be feared in the case of the half-figure representations of Jesus by Giovanni Bellini (see fig. 38) and Bernardino Luini (see fig. 30) depicting him clad in noble tunics with artistically decorated borders as can be seen in The Bible in Images, especially as in the two pictures of Jesus as a twelveyear-old and as the Saviour, the masterly expression of intense interiority makes all other observations and questions pale into insignificance.
The freedom of artists in handling a Biblical text is illustrated in Ernst Barlach's woodcut "Der Cherub" (The cherub) (see fig. 10), which is inspired by the account in Genesis of the expulsion of humankind from Paradise. In this woodcut the state of the human person in their "thrownness" is clear to see. But the cherub does not bear the threatening fiery sword. Nor does it confront the human person with forbidding aspect, like it does for example in the representation of the expulsion on Hildesheim's Bernward Gate, which remains relatively true to the Biblical account. On the contrary, standing with its back turned to humanity, its gaze is unwaveringly fixed on the source of the rays of light. In this stance it is reminiscent of the "Prologue in heaven" in Goethe's Faust, where the choir of angels looks towards the sun: "Its aspect gives the angels strength".
If the cherub is out of role, so too are the two 'God-seekers' in the top left-hand centre of Ernst Barlach's woodcut. Rather than working their field, as Genesis puts it, "by the sweat of their brow"¹ or following their sexual urges like the couples in the
8 Paolo Veronese, "The Wedding at Cana", oil, 1562–1563, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
9 See Matthew 8:20 / Luke 9:58: "Jesus said to him: The foxes have their homes and the birds of the air have their nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
10 In the aforementioned representation of the expulsion on the Bernward Gate, Adam is already busy constructing a house.
foreground, they contemplate the rays emanating from the centre of the light with all their strength and passion and remain undistracted by their earthly needs. Viewed from a theological aspect, Barlach supplies an image of the 'lumen naturale', that natural feeling for God which the human person receives through what has been termed the original revelation (compare the letter to the Romans by the apostle Paul, chapter 1 verse 20).
The woodcut "Der Cherub" (The cherub) is thus showing itself to be an example of the great freedom an artist can claim for him or herself when interpreting Biblical accounts. This scope for freedom opens particularly wide and the challenge for the artist is particularly great if he or she faces the task of describing, through the medium of art, supernatural events that run counter to human experience. This applies to the miracles of Jesus and in a particular way to the 'event' not directly described in the Bible: The resurrection of Jesus. Marc Chagall decided, when designing the stained glass windows in Zurich's Fraumünster Church, to leave an empty window in his depiction of the Easter events.¹¹ Fig. 73 and fig. 74, by contrast, show how Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn and Matthias Grünewald tackled the same issue.
While Rembrandt, staying very 'true to the Scriptures', focuses on the dramatic accompanying events described in Matthew – the Angel of the Lord, "his appearance was like lightning", rolls away the stone from the tomb¹², Matthias Grünewald creates in free artistic design "a miracle of colour without parallel in the history of art which speaks to us today just as vividly as it did to the people on the eve of the Reformation".¹³
How will artists use their freedom if they want to make use of Biblical events which do not concord exactly with each other because of the different versions found in the Gospels? A perfect example of this would seem to me to be the way Graham Sutherland deals with the subject of the 'deposition from the cross' (see fig. 71). Unlike some of his notable precursors in the history of art, such as Peter Paul Rubens or Il Rosso Fiorentino, whose depositions from the cross include an extremely large
11 See Niklaus Peter in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, International edition, 3/4 April 2010, no. 77, 231. Jhg.
12 Jesus, still wrapped in gravecloths, about to climb out of the tomb, plays a marginal role in this depiction.
13 U. Uber in the illustrated volume Christliche Kunst, Hamburg 1978.
number of figures, Graham Sutherland in his depiction of this event (see fig. 71) would seem to have restricted himself deliberately to the circle of the persons immediately participating or present, named in the canonical Gospels. Whereas the authors of what are referred to as the 'Synoptic Gospels' mention Joseph of Arimathea and Mary of Magdala together with "the other Mary" in connection with the deposition of Jesus from the cross, John the Evangelist names only Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. In the interests of a Biblical interpretation that accepts the essential harmony of the Scriptures, Graham Sutherland has opted to include all persons mentioned in the canonical Gospels.
However, Sutherland's painting says a lot not just about the degrees of freedom an artist enjoys in interpreting Biblical sources, but also about the degrees of freedom in the employment of modern forms of expression, particularly figurative abstraction. Compared with the degree of abstraction found in Pablo Picasso's depiction of the crucifixion in the Musée Picasso in Paris from 1930, Sutherland's work dating from 1946 seems to lack a certain consistency. But whereas Picasso's depiction becomes a puzzle for anyone looking at art without special training, Sutherland's 'semiabstract' solution takes account of the trend towards abstraction while also permitting him to 'get to the point' of the individual roles played by the persons involved in the deposition from the cross according to the Gospels.
Abstraction is a highly effective way of expression in modern religious art, as is impressively demonstrated by, for example, the woodcuts of Carl Schmitt-Rottluff from the Kristus-Mappe (Christ file) (see fig. 33 and fig. 76). After all, the woodcuts by Carl Schmidt-Rottluff number among the high moments of early abstract expressionism, just as the works of Günter Skrodzki on the subject of Jonah in woodcut, monotype (see fig. 21 and fig. 22) and oil probably number among the most significant of late expressionism.¹
The selection of works of art for the illustrated volume The Bible in Images has focused on figurative images. The fact that pure landscapes, for example, can serve as media for the expression of Biblical themes is well-known from the work of Caspar
14 See Günter Skrodzki, Projekt Bibel, 420 Holzschnitte zum Alten und Neuen Testament, Wachholtz 2006, p. 139-143.
David Friedrich and Vincent van Gogh, among others. As early as the "Great Piece of Turf" by Albrecht Dürer dated 1503 from the graphic collection Albertina in Vienna we have a beautiful hymn to God's works. Although the atmospheric paintings by Adam Elsheimer (see fig. 27) and Claude Lorrain (see fig. p. 28) are not pure landscapes, the scenery absolutely predominates in both cases. In Adam Elsheimer's case, the solemn quiet of the night under the order of the stars, and in that of Claude Lorrain the wonderful light of day that floods through everything, with the figures seeming almost lost.
The genre of the interior scene is less common as a medium for expressing Biblical themes. The Bible in Images features two examples (see fig. 57 and fig. 58). In his portrayal of his wife Caroline ascending the stairwell, Caspar David Friedrich has made an interior of his Dresden residence a medium for expressing his belief in the resurrection (see fig. 57). "Die unendliche Wohnung" (The endless dwelling) (see fig. 58) by Hamburg / Paris-based painter Hans Günther Baass, a pure interior scene, possesses just as much originality. A room flooded with light, in whose foreground a mighty pillar and a wall constitute a cross symbol, loses itself in an uncertain distance.
Ernst Michael Winter – Hamburg in January 2017