When the National Gallery reopened last year, they began with a free exhibition about the little known Dutch painter, Nicolaes Maes. Having learnt from the great master of painting, Rembrandt, Maes produced over 1000 artworks, 900 of which were portraits. This exhibition only contained 50 artworks but managed to provide a detailed journey of Maes’ artistic progress, beginning with historical and biblical scenes and ending with depictions of everyday life.
It is not easy to put Maes’ earlier works into chronological order because he tended not to sign or date them. His earliest signed and dated painting is Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael, which he produced in 1653 during his final year with Rembrandt.
Loosely based on an etching by his master, Maes managed to convey the scene in an original manner. The painting shows a scene from the Book of Genesis. Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, is being dismissed along with her son Ishmael. Abraham’s wife had given Hagar to him so that he could produce an heir. Fourteen years later, Abraham’s wife Sarah miraculously gave birth to a boy, Isaac. Concerned that Ishmael would receive her son’s rightful inheritance, Sarah commanded Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. The constrained emotion on both Abraham and Hagar’s faces suggests neither of them was happy with the outcome.
Christ Blessing the Children is considered to be Maes’ earliest surviving painting, although initially wrongly attributed to Rembrandt due to the similarity in style and lack of a signature. It is also of contrasting size to the other artworks Maes produced while in Amsterdam. His paintings were “cabinet size”, but this biblical scene is much larger with a height of 81.1 inches (206cm) and a width of 60.6 inches (154cm).
Maes took inspiration for this painting from the Book of Mark when Jesus says, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15) Following this, Jesus blessed every child in his presence.
The majority of Maes’ surviving early works are religious. Biblical stories include the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), The Death of Absalom (2 Samuel 14), Christ before Pilate (Matthew 27) and The Adoration of the Shepherds (Luke 2). Maes painted the latter after he had left Rembrandt’s studio and used an engraving by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) as a basis. Maes made a faithful copy of the engraving to the tiniest detail. The proportions are exact and the colour and shading he added to the image highlight the holy family and their visitors.
One of Maes’ religious paintings extends beyond the Bible. Using his imagination and traditional beliefs, Maes experimented with portraiture by painting The Apostle Thomas. The apostle, sometimes known as Doubting Thomas, established seven churches in India between AD 52 and AD 72. Maes imagined what the older man looked like during his mission in India and, at first, the portrait appears to be of a reticent elder. Painted in the manner of Rembrandt, Maes indicated the man’s identity with the subtle inclusion of a set square in his left hand. As well as being one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas was a builder or carpenter, a profession that used a set square for accurate measurements. Some traditions believe Thomas was martyred by a spear that had a head resembling the set square, which has since become his symbol in works of art.
If you would like to read the full article, click here!
This blog post was published with the permission of the author, Hazel Stainer. www.hazelstainer.wordpress.com
As we return to regular worship in church, I would like us to think about what worship really means. Nobody forces us to worship. Worship is freely given. We do not worship because God is some egomaniac but in response to all that God has done, for instance, God’s miracles. God’s first miracle was creating the world, and another was sending Jesus to die for our sins so that we can reconcile with God and enjoy that relationship.
Worship is not just singing songs. As Romans 12:1 says, worship is offering our bodies to God as living sacrifices. We worship because God is the creator, the deliverer and the provider. We worship because we are hard-wired to do so. In today’s society, where God is often not acknowledged, we have the cult of the celebrity, or we worship money or status. Worshipping God is an acknowledgement of something being over and above human life.
We worship to offer God something of ourselves. We pray not to change God’s mind but for our minds to be changed. We pray to align our thoughts with God’s and to self reflect. We try to respond in a way God wants us to respond and ask for things that we know God wants us to ask. So, there is adoration in worship, there is a conversation in worship, and there is the giving of ourselves in worship.
One thing Covid-19 has shown us is that we do not need a building in order to worship. I asked a friend, "what is art?" She told me, if art is made with the intention of being art, then it is art. The same goes for worship. If what you do is set out to be worship, then it is worship. Even if you are cleaning the dishes or walking in the park, if your mind is in a state of worship, then it is worship.
Worship allows us to be aware of God working in our lives. It is having the time and space to allow God to speak to us but also allows ourselves to feel the presence of God. God wishes to make us more like Jesus, the supreme example of love. Freely given, love is an outpouring of yourself, like having a cathartic experience.
Worship is about surrendering everything to God with all our heart, mind and strength. Whilst singing is an emotional response, and singing was very much a part of life in the temple and Judaism, it is not all that worship is, but it can help us understand something of the mystery of God. When you are wrapped up in music, it transcends words, which is why music is important. But worship is not all about singing. As already said, worship is giving 100% of yourself to God as a living sacrifice.
We worship because it is good for us. In a busy world, worship creates space for an hour or so when we are not distracted by email or social media. We allow ourselves to be wrapped in the above and beyond. Worship gives us an attitude of gratitude. Instead of being me me me, worship lets us focus on thankfulness. Worship is good for us because it provides a sense of perspective. By nature, we are designed to worship, and worshipping God allows us to direct it in the right place.
So, that is worship. Worship is our relationship with God, but it is enhanced when worshipping with others. So, in returning to church, we find strength, not only in the testimony of others and discovering how God is working in their lives but by giving us a sense of community. Take, for example, a lump of barbecue coal. Without other coals, a single one will go out. Yet, with other coals that are alight, it creates fire. Nonetheless, whilst corporate worship is important and worshipping in a building is important, it is not vital. Worship is about giving everything you are to a God who has created a universe for us, and for responding to God’s love, feeling God’s presence, and surrendering to that love and being transformed into all that God created us to be.
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon