Sunday, March 1, 2009

Quadragesima -- Forty Days

Ivan Nikolaević Kramskoj. Christ in the desert. 1872. Moscow.
Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him. ― Matthew iv. 1-11. DRC
To-day is the first Sunday in Lent.* The Gospel reading in the old roman rite, and in year A, of the cycle is supra. In the other years, the corresponding passages are from Mark and Luke. Jesus is in the desert alone, and has prepared His Soul for His mission ahead. He is weary and hungry. He will soon meet the devil.

Ivan Nikolaević Kramskoj *1837,†1887 was the leader of the Wanderers (Peredvižniki), a group of realist painters (conferre: the Barbizon), whom, were artists of the people, and not of the academy. Before entry to Saint Petersburg, he had been apprenticed to an iconographer, and then to a photographer. Kramskoj became, primarily, a limner of poets, philosophers and peasants. His brush was not dipped in too, many colors. This portrait of Christ Jesus was THE painting of the second travelling exhibition. The light of the sun is as a nimbus about Jesus, as He broods, in desolation. Many were impressed with the intense, moral gravity, some were upset with Jesus the Serf, and wanted Jesus the Pantocrator. Tolstoj saw the painting and approved, and later consented to sit for a portrait. As Tolstoj was, then, writing Anna Karenina, Kramskoj, became the character, Mikhajlov. Kramskoj died whilst painting another portrait.
Kramskoj spoke and wrote of this painting:
“I suddenly stumbled upon him, just like that at daybreak; just like that he sat there, the hands clasped together, with bowed head, his mouth almost faded away from long remaining silent. He did not notice me...Nothing in the painting is contrived. I saw everything together just like that. By chance the whole scene was exactly the same.”

“At daybreak he [Jesus] sits tired, tormented, and careworn amongst the stones, cold stones. His hands are convulsive and pressed together tightly, very tightly; the fingers press into the flesh, the feet are sore, the head bowed. He has been deep in thought and has been praying for a long time ...”

“During work on the painting, I mused, prayed, and suffered a great deal ...”

“I have perhaps committed sacrilege, but I couldn’t help but paint him. I couldn’t, if you like, not do it. I can say that I painted him with blood and tears.”
* in the greek, and other eastern, rite(s), to-day is the First Sunday of the Great Fast, Sunday of Orthodoxy and the Feast of the Return of the Icons; for the separated, our orthodox brothers, it is next week.

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