The truly divine element [in Jesus]
is the glorious clearness to which
the great idea he came to exhibit attained in his soul: that all that
is finite requires a higher mediation to be in accord with the Deity, and that for man under the power of
the finite and the particular, and
too ready to imagine the divine
itself in this form, salvation is only
to be found in redemption.

Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion,
Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1893)

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European artists and philosophers attempted to liberate Jesus from the prison of reason that Enlightenment t Read More
The truly divine element [in Jesus]
is the glorious clearness to which
the great idea he came to exhibit attained in his soul: that all that
is finite requires a higher mediation to be in accord with the Deity, and that for man under the power of
the finite and the particular, and
too ready to imagine the divine
itself in this form, salvation is only
to be found in redemption.

Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion,
Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1893)

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European artists and philosophers attempted to liberate Jesus from the prison of reason that Enlightenment thinkers had erected around him. The Romantics saw Jesus not as a model of reason, but as an archetypal image of the artist - a being who organically integrated all aspects of his psyche and his spirit in order to touch the very ground of reality. He was the locus of the vital relationship between man and nature, between subject and object, between the conscious mind and unconscious intuition. This Jesus was the transcendent creativity who united all threads of the human soul, the muse who inspired poets and painters, the artistic impulse made flesh.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Vision of the Cross

Christ has served as the inspiration for many of the world's great artists, including Dante Alighieri, who is assailed by a vision of the cross on his great pilgrimage through God's Kingdom.

Gustave Doré
The Vision of Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri
c. 1868
Zinc engraving
PMA: J98.330
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta


Jesus and his Apostles and his Disciples were all Artists … The Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art. Art is the Tree of Life. GOD is Jesus. Science is the Tree of Death.

William Blake, The Laocoon

When William Blake criticized the Enlightenment understanding of Jesus, he did it, like everything else, with an imagination and excessiveness that has rarely been matched. In The Everlasting Gospel, Blake presents Jesus not as a moral theorizer or a prodigious philosopher, but as the very embodiment of the "poetic," as a supremely creative being above rigid dogma, above harsh logic, above even morality. Jesus explodes from the pages of Blake's poetry with a fierce apocalypticism far removed from the eminently rational Enlightenment Jesus. With Blake, Jesus becomes more than just a thinker or a moralizer, he becomes a symbol of being, of the vital and non-dualistic relationship between divinity and humanity.
Jesus and his Apostles and his Disciples were all Artists … The Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art. Art is the Tree of Life. GOD is Jesus. Science is the Tree of Death.

William Blake, The Laocoon

When William Blake criticized the Enlightenment understanding of Jesus, he did it, like everything else, with an imagination and excessiveness that has rarely been matched. In The Everlasting Gospel, Blake presents Jesus not as a moral theorizer or a prodigious philosopher, but as the very embodiment of the "poetic," as a supremely creative being above rigid dogma, above harsh logic, above even morality. Jesus explodes from the pages of Blake's poetry with a fierce apocalypticism far removed from the eminently rational Enlightenment Jesus. With Blake, Jesus becomes more than just a thinker or a moralizer, he becomes a symbol of being, of the vital and non-dualistic relationship between divinity and humanity.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Descent of Peace and the Adoration of the Child by Nature

Blake's swirling illustration of a John Milton poem expresses the dynamism and lyricism which characterized Romantic interpretations of Jesus.

William Blake
Whitworth Art Gallery

Drawing
PMA:J99.1841
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta


… Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." … [Jesus] cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out …

John 11:39, 43-44
Whereas Enlightenment thinkers had tended to discount the veracity of miracle stories, many Romantic and post-Romantic artists saw the miraculous not only as a possibility, but as a truth with profound spiritual and personal significance. This belief in the miraculous is forcibly expressed in the great scene in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which Sonia reads to Raskolnikov the tale of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. To be sure, it is a strange scene: the harlot reading to the murderer from holy writ. Yet the scene communicates, with incredible poignancy and tension, the meaning of faith in the inexplicable. The belief in Lazarus’ resurrection leads Raskolnikov to an understanding of the possibility of cleansing and rebirth, of a re-unification with the earth that he has defiled and the spiritual nature from which he has been estranged.
… Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." … [Jesus] cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out …

John 11:39, 43-44
Whereas Enlightenment thinkers had tended to discount the veracity of miracle stories, many Romantic and post-Romantic artists saw the miraculous not only as a possibility, but as a truth with profound spiritual and personal significance. This belief in the miraculous is forcibly expressed in the great scene in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which Sonia reads to Raskolnikov the tale of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. To be sure, it is a strange scene: the harlot reading to the murderer from holy writ. Yet the scene communicates, with incredible poignancy and tension, the meaning of faith in the inexplicable. The belief in Lazarus’ resurrection leads Raskolnikov to an understanding of the possibility of cleansing and rebirth, of a re-unification with the earth that he has defiled and the spiritual nature from which he has been estranged.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Raising of Lazarus

In Dostoevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is drawn to confession and repentance through his mythic identification with Lazarus, the man who died and rose again through Christ.

Martyn Pepyn
Art Gallery of Ontario, Gift of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, 1995.
17th Century
Oil on pannel
N° d'acq. 95/149 PMA:J99.1631.
© Art Gallery of Ontario Collection


… be filled with the Spirit , as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts …

Ephesians 5:18-19

Johann Sebastian Bach has long been esteemed as one of the greatest composers in human history. Perhaps because of this fact and because he lived more than a century after Luther, the influence of the Reformation upon Bach’s work is often overlooked. The significance of the Reformation was not limited to its transformative impact upon the church; it also had profound consequences for European arts and culture. Luther’s translation of the Bible and his practice of using the arts in service of praising God led to the flowering of vernacular hymns and the establishment of the Lutheran chorale. One of Bach’s greatest accomplishments was the powerful combination of these two Reformation elements in his cantatas and in the Saint Matthew Passion and Saint John Passion. In the minds of some, Bach’s masterful evocations of the suffering and death of Jesus have established him as the Fifth Evangelist.
… be filled with the Spirit , as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts …

Ephesians 5:18-19

Johann Sebastian Bach has long been esteemed as one of the greatest composers in human history. Perhaps because of this fact and because he lived more than a century after Luther, the influence of the Reformation upon Bach’s work is often overlooked. The significance of the Reformation was not limited to its transformative impact upon the church; it also had profound consequences for European arts and culture. Luther’s translation of the Bible and his practice of using the arts in service of praising God led to the flowering of vernacular hymns and the establishment of the Lutheran chorale. One of Bach’s greatest accomplishments was the powerful combination of these two Reformation elements in his cantatas and in the Saint Matthew Passion and Saint John Passion. In the minds of some, Bach’s masterful evocations of the suffering and death of Jesus have established him as the Fifth Evangelist.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Passion according to Saint Matthew

To Bach, music was the instrument of worshipping Jesus, the Mirror of the Beautiful.

Johann Sebastian Bach
c. 1729
PMA:J99.1840
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta


Johann Sebastian Bach

A devout Lutheran, Bach abandoned a prestigious position as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen to become a cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where his primary occupation was to compose cantatas for Sunday services in the city's churches.

Unknown

Engraving
PMA: J99.1827
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify and describe the Jesus of the Romantic period
  • Express how art of the Romantic period depicted Jesus, using examples in literature and music

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