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Imaging the Word

Art and Theology


At Good Shepherd, we embrace the Arts and affirm them as a good and proper means of communicating the beauty and truth of the Gospel.


Understanding how art can enable us to see God in new and different ways and at the same time foster the habit of contemplation, these devotionals are intended to help believers to contemplate the matters of faith through the lens of art. It is the aim and hope that these devotionals will serve to aid our members in growing closer to God.

Rothschild Canticles.jpg
Rubens The Resurrection of Christ.jpg
Paul van Dongen (Dutch, 1958–), Crown of Thorns (2), 2004.webp
transfiguration (3).jpg
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833–1898), The Nativity, 1888.jpg
James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), The Pharisee and The Tax Collector, 1886-1894.jpg

Archived Art Devotions

6-4-23: Contemplating the Trinity

This upcoming Sunday is “Trinity Sunday,” the festival day dedicated to celebrating the mystery of the Triune God, the Three-in-One and One-in-Three. Words and images can only really gesture toward, never fully explain or capture, this paradox. Still, there is value in meditating on it, as the Triune nature of God gives us a glimpse into who God is. Some of the most innovative visual imaginings of the Trinity come from a small handheld devotional book from early 14th-century Flanders known as the “Rothschild Canticles.” Made for a nun, the book compiles Bible verses, liturgical praises, and theological and exegetical material, along with 46 full-page miniatures — an unprecedented nineteen of which are on the subject of the Trinity, all full of whimsy, warmth, and joy. (more)

4-20-23: Caravaggio's Suppers of Emmaus

Caravaggio was commissioned to produce a number of large-scale paintings. And even though many of his works were rejected by patrons on the grounds of indecorum or theological error, some people were beginning to see his style as a welcome antidote to ‘Mannerism,’ the limp style of creating dreamy-eyed, highly stylized, religious images. Caravaggio’s biblical characters looked like ordinary people, their faces not looking as if drugged, but rather animated by fear or anger or compassion. This is to say, he brought the otherworldly realm of the Bible right into the streets and houses of 17th-century Rome. Nowhere is this more powerfully seen than in his two paintings, both titled “Supper at Emmaus” (1601 and 1606). (more)

4-6-23: Terrible Glory of Easter

Of any event in the Gospels, Jesus’ miraculous emergence from the tomb ought to attract the interest of visual artists, yet the frequency of depiction of the Resurrection pales in comparison with the countless images of his terrible death and even of the removal of his body from the cross and deposition in the tomb. One reason for the infrequent depiction surely is that none of the gospels actually describe the moment Jesus emerged from the tomb. Artists then have had to imagine how the very first witnesses, the guards at the tomb, may have reacted when they saw Jesus bursting forth from behind the sealed stone. (more)

Vines, thistles, seaweed, ivy, and other botanical elements are frequent subjects in the work of Dutch artist Paul van Dongen. One fascinating example of this art is a series of etchings titled Crown of Thorns. Created in 2004–5, shortly after his return to the Christian faith, each of these pieces depicts a ring of twining briars that evoke the crown forced mockingly on Jesus just before his crucifixion. (more)

There are lots of children’s stories, and children’s pictures and songs, about Noah’s ark. Yet anyone who has actually read Genesis 7-9 knows that the story of Noah and the ark is anything but a children’s story. Children’s bibles and toys see a big boat and parade of animals, but the biblical story is the story of the great flood that wiped out nearly every living thing from the face of the earth. Not the kind of thing to read to a child before bedtime! (more)

This Sunday, the Last Sunday of Epiphany, our Gospel lesson relates the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The event described by Matthew, as well as by Mark and Luke, tells about the revealing of Christ’s divine origin to the three Apostles while they were praying on Mount Tabor. The Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration is a highly revered image, the composition of which conceals many symbols. In this article, I outline five keys to understanding the meaning of this sacred icon. (more)

As February is Black History Month, it is fitting that the ‘Imaging the Word’ column this week highlights the artistic contribution of an African-American painter—in this case, one of my favorite painters, Henry Ossawa Tanner. (more)

An icon ('image, resemblance') is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks, but rather " a sacred image used in religious devotion". They are seen as “windows” or “portals” into spiritual reality, and are used as aids to worship and prayer. (more)

When visiting museums, we often walk past artworks that seem at first glance dull and conventional, in favor more famous or more visually exciting pieces. We assume the visually conventional have nothing to show us. But, the fact is, if we were to look more closely, and appreciate the context of their creation, we often find something unexpected, even subversive. This is the case with The Nativity and its companion piece, The King and the Shepherd, both of which were painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Coley Burne-Jones in 1887 for the chancel of Saint John’s Church in Torquay, England. (more)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (or, Publican) has not been a popular subject for artists over the centuries. One presumes this is because of the absence of any real dramatic action in the story and thus most of the meaning of this parable is felt inwardly, which is difficult to depict visually in any profound way. This makes the illustration of the parable far less interesting than, say, the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the parable of the Wicked Tenants. Artists, who have taken the parable, have resorted to giving us “just the facts” as a reminder. What commentary they offered was done in non-obvious ways, in terms of position within the picture and through posture. (more)

Medieval depictions of Jacob wrestling with the Angel, limited almost exclusively to miniatures in illuminated Bibles, have been straightforward, showing a man dressed in Medieval clothing wrestling with an angel, dressed in white robe and shown with wings on the back, what has become the conventional portrayal of an angel in Western art. (more)

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