Give Now

Category Archives: Object of the Month.2017

Object of the Month: December 2017

The Adoration of the Magi

Oil on canvas, Initialed and dated, lower right: JB 1652

Jan Boeckhorst, called Lange Jan

Flemish, c. 1604–1668

Click on the link for additional reference information.

Among the Museum & Gallery’s collection, there are both famous and unknown artists.  But what about those who fall right in the middle?  What about the artists who have active careers and equal skill to the “greats,” but never achieve the fame of their contemporaries?  One of these artists is the Flemish master, Jan Boeckhorst.

Jan Boeckhorst, nicknamed Lange Jan (“Tall John”) was born in Münster, Germany in 1604.  At seventeen, he became a canon in the Jesuit church, but at the advanced age of twenty-two (long past the standard age for training) decided to become a painter.

In the 1620s, he moved to the coastal city of Antwerp—home to some of the greatest artists of his time.  Some historians claim he studied with Jacob Jordaens while others say it was Peter Paul Rubens.  More than likely, Boeckhorst studied with Jordaens because Rubens was in Spain and England in the late 1620s. Around 1634, Boeckhorst achieved the title of Master in Antwerp’s Guild of St. Luke and worked alongside the other Flemish masters including Rubens and Anthony van Dyck.  Boeckhorst visited Italy twice to study the sixteenth-century Venetian masters such as Titian and Tintoretto and returned to Antwerp by 1640.

Throughout his later life, he painted a variety of subject matter including religious and mythological for church altarpieces and private collectors.  His artistic work ranged from paintings, designing tapestries, and illustrating for religious books.  He also contributed to the founding of the Antwerp Academy.  After a full life, he died on April 21, 1668.

Despite his active career, much of Boeckhorst’s work is unknown, unsigned or wrongly attributed, so it has been difficult to compile a comprehensive list of his art.  One of the reasons his work might be misattributed is his close work relationship with Rubens. There are many evidences of their collaboration based on the standard studio practice of the time. Boeckhorst would help touch up paintings under Rubens’ instructions and even assisted the master in large commissions. After Rubens’ death in 1640, Boeckhorst finished or even restored Rubens’ remaining works. An example of their collaboration is King David Playing the Harp at the Städel Museum.

In M&G’s collection, there are three paintings by Boeckhorst; of these The Adoration of the Magi is considered his greatest work in America.  In the lower right corner, his initials and date are painted on a rock face: JB 1652.

Boeckhorst displays a heightened attention to texture with the wafting incense, richness of the garments, and different animals.  Because of his saturated colors, graceful composition and dramatic movement, scholars consider this painting to be a masterpiece of the High Baroque style.

KC Christmas, M&G graduate assistant



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: November 2017

Christ on the Sea of Galilee

Oil on canvas

Unknown French

France, active 17th century

Click on links for additional reference information.
This dynamic seascape by a seventeenth-century French painter bears a striking similarity to a work done by a renowned Dutch master of the same period, Rembrandt van Rijn. Until the modern concepts of copyright and intellectual property, most artists of the past eagerly learned from the creative ideas and innovative troubleshooting of both those before them and their contemporaries. Part of an artist’s training involved painting copies of famous works of art or that of their master (the teacher they were apprenticed to or worked under).  The diagonal composition, dramatic lighting, textures, and even to some degree, the figures in this M&G work are clearly reminiscent of Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (below).

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was born in the Netherlands, “a land of winds and water.” Located on the North Sea, twenty-five percent of the land is at or below sea level with the highest point (Vaalserberg) only 1053 feet above. Over the centuries, this geography has shaped both the nation’s history and the temperament of its people. For example, during the seventeenth century raging sea storms and lowland flooding often threatened life and livelihood, but Dutch ingenuity and resilience turned these formidable obstacles into valuable resources.  (For more detailed exploration download the National Gallery of Art’s informative resource Painting in the Dutch Golden Age.)

In light of Rembrandt’s birthplace, it’s interesting that he painted only one seascape. Regardless, the dynamic composition and nuanced atmospheric beauty of his Storm on the Sea of Galilee reflects an intimate knowledge of storm-tossed seas. Rembrandt was only 27 when he painted this work, and art historians have speculated that the choice of subject indicates a youthful preference for action-packed scenes. Whatever his motivation, the scene clearly adumbrates the dramatic chiaroscuro and nuanced visual texture that would become a hallmark of his work.

Sadly, we are limited to experiencing the work through reproductions.  On the night of March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, bound the museum’s security guards, and made off with thirteen of the gallery’s prized masterworks, including Rembrandt’s famous seascape. 

Artists today are still honing their skills by studying and copying such masterworks. As contemporary artist Lisa Marder acknowledges, it is “one of the tried and true techniques of classical art training.”

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: October 2017

Wittenberg, October 31, 1517

Oil on canvas, Signed and dated: E. Crowe, 1864 (lower left)

Eyre Crowe, A.R.A.

English, 1824–1910

Click on links for additional reference information.

Martin Luther truly changed the course of history, but it was English painter Eyre Crowe who captured the defining moment. Wittenberg, October 31, 1517, has long been a favorite of M&G guests for its historical accuracy. “Story paintings,” a common name for the genre of this piece, invite investigation, and recent research on Crowe’s work has revealed that there is “more of the story to tell.”

The obvious historical event being pictured here is Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the University of Wittenberg Chapel. But it may very well be that Crowe purposely wove together additional personages and objects which served to emphasize the crux of the matter which prompted Luther’s action – plenary indulgences offered by the Roman Catholic church.

The prominent horseman on the left, Johann Tetzel, holds in his left hand a grid-like object with dangling metal bulla. The embedded papers, inscribed with numbers representing days or years in purgatory that could be lessened, were purchased by anxious parishioners seeking to relieve themselves or their dead of suffering.  Coins clunking in the coffer Tetzel holds evokes the rhyme that still rings through the halls of history.

Worshippers could also acquire relief from anguish by employing a prayer to Mary, Christ’s mother, called The Rosary. In order to count the component invocations, or “tell the beads,” individuals held an object known as a rosary. Rosaries took on many forms (chaplets, ropes, decade and pomander rings) of varying materials (wood, glass, seeds and plastic). Crowe identifies medieval rosary rings reminiscent of a carnival ring toss game by placing examples in the foreground. He continues to add additional weight to his emphasis by sprinkling rosary types, either held or worn, near the significant people in Luther’s life. Research required to accomplish such a historically accurate piece likely led Crowe to such paintings as The Arnolfini Wedding by Jan van Eyck and The Feast of the Rosary by Albrecht Dürer both of which contain prayer beads.

Prominently represented left center and wearing regal garb is Margaret of Münsterberg with her son George III clinging to her skirt. Bereft of her husband, Prince Ernest I of Anhalt-Dessau, and left with three sons too young to assume regency, Margaret undertook her new position as princess regent with vigor and religiosity. Strongly adverse to the Reformation, she organized the League of Dessau. Though unsuccessful in thwarting the spread of the Reformers’ teaching, it is very possible the League exposed her sons to Luther and his doctrine. Letters were exchanged between Luther, Margaret, and her offspring, which resulted in her sons’ adopting the tenets of Lutheranism in their adult years. George ultimately was ordained by Luther, making him the only German prince to be inducted into the Lutheran clergy.

As if to make a final point on the issue of indulgences, the artist places in each of Margaret’s hands a rosary – one a ring and the other a wooden beaded arrangement. A woman of means who could certainly afford some of the extravagant materials used for rosaries of the period, Margaret, however, emulates her sovereign ruler, Charles V, by clutching a poor man’s wooden one.

In Eithne Wilkins’ The Rose Garden Game; the Symbolic Background to the European Prayer Beads, the author details the varying philosophies associated with a worshipper’s choice of rosary materials:

Beauty of material and elaborate workmanship over against ascetic simplicity remains an issue, as might be expected throughout the centuries.  The principle of making the external object conform with the interior purpose can be interpreted in two ways. One may feel, as Lady Godiva did in the eleventh century, that it is fitting to count one’s prayers on jewels, for they are being offered to God. Or one may feel that a wretched sinner like oneself should not presume to offer prayers on any but the plainest beads. This sort of self-abasement may even be more effective than any flashing of gems. That was so when in 1532 and again in 1541 the Emperor Charles V, taking part in the Corpus Christi procession at Regensburg, carried ‘ordinary little brown wooden beads’: it was, the commentator pointed out, ‘to mark his humility.’ The ostentation of some people’s display evoked criticism as early as 1261, and fashion was not always on the side of luxury: Emperor Charles V carried ordinary little brown wooden beads…to mark his humility.

Crowe has also included the historical likenesses of other key people from sixteenth-century Wittenberg on the right side of the painting.  Katherina von Bora, the nun who eventually married Luther, is present with Luther’s father, mother, and sister. To the left of Katherina von Bora is Luther’s artist friend, Lucas Cranach, the Elder.

Wittenberg, October 31, 1517 is exhibited as part of Luther’s Journey: Experience the History on view in the Gustafson Fine Art Center on the campus of Bob Jones University. Information about the exhibit and the accompanying tour is available here:

Bonnie Merkle, Internal Database Manager and Docent



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: September 2017



Italian, 16th century


Years ago a television series aired featuring a dolphin named “Flipper.”  He exhibited the usual amount of dolphin intelligence and often saved the day. One of M&G’s pieces of furniture includes carved dolphins and takes a person to a time and place where dolphins symbolized various aspects of life.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Italy specialized in the production of a special piece of furniture called, cassone, the Italian word meaning chest.  Of the eighteen cassoni (plural for cassone) in M&G’s collection, one is beautifully and elaborately carved; rather than a lion’s claw for feet or some other standard furniture base, this cassone rests on four carved dolphins.  In his catalog for M&G’s furniture collection, furniture connoisseur Joseph Aaronson described the chest this way, “the dynamic carving of swirling plant and grotesque animal forms, framed at the corners by winged putti figures. . . is based on Roman patterns and is unmistakably Italian in its playful freedom.”


Rome became the center of cassone production in the mid to late sixteenth century. According to the Encyclopedia of Interior Design, by this time society’s taste had shifted from the chests with painted panel scenes and portraits to a more sculptural form of decoratively carved dark walnut with little to no paint or gilding. M&G’s cassone represents the era’s preferred choice with its dark wood and ornate carvings.

However, why would dolphins be carved for the feet?  Most people at this time were familiar with the mammal due to the fact that Italy is surrounded by water.  Greek mythology presents dolphins as companions to Dionysius, a seafaring god; and they are also connected with Venus the goddess of love.  Dolphins symbolized long life and safety in travel.  Since cassoni were often given in pairs as a wedding gift by a bride’s parents, it was one way to express their support and desire that a marriage would be safe, long, and produce a healthy family. In its context, a cassone was both a practical and necessary piece of furniture, but also a status symbol in society for newlyweds.

M&G’s cassone was a gift from Carl Hamilton in 1956, and remains somewhat mysterious. Its shape may indicate when it was made and its possible origin in the seaport of Genoa.  On the front is a crest, yet no further information has been found to connect it to a specific family.  As cassone production is further studied, perhaps more will be learned about M&G’s cassone in the future.

John Good, Security Manager



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: August 2017

Christ Seats the Child in the Midst of the Disciples

Oil on canvas

Mattia Preti, called Il Cavaliere Calabrese

Neopolitan, 1613-1699


A Teachable Moment 

The summer months have been ticking away and school waits around the corner. However, as we all know, school is not the only place where learning occurs. Children and adults alike find life itself to be full of teachable moments.

Mattia Preti (1613-1699), a seventeenth-century Neapolitan Baroque artist, highlights one such moment in the life of Christ. His oil painting, Christ Seats the Child in the Midst of the Disciples, captures the familiar account from Matthew 18. The subjects in this painting, Christ’s disciples, learn a lesson from their Master.

In response to their babblings about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Christ explains that “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The child portrayed in the center of Preti’s work acts as an object lesson for the disillusioned disciples.

Interestingly, Preti incorporates various subtle hints referencing the struggle between good and evil. The child, dressed in the purity and innocence of white, sits between an illumined Christ and a shadowed Judas. The betrayer, wearing a red robe of hate, grasps the child’s arm while Christ extends His hand toward the boy. The Master’s gaze locks with the eyes of Judas, and his left hand points heavenward. You can almost hear his admonition: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).

This work along with others created by Preti reveal the influence of Il Guercino, Lanfranco, and Caravaggio in his color choices and use of chiaroscuro—contrasting light with darkness. Preti’s career as an artist sparked in Rome and continued to grow as he expanded his learning in Naples and across Italy before finally moving to Malta. His various works, mostly religious scenes, capture moments in time and prod the viewer to stop and reflect on teachable moments.


Interesting facts about M&G’s work and Mattia Preti:

Preti was knighted by Pope Urban VIII in 1641.

Preti also answered to the name Il Cavaliere Calabrese—The Knight of Calabria.

Preti’s Christ Seats the Child in the Midst of the Disciples was the first work by this artist to be hung in a public American museum.


This painting has traveled across the United States and to other parts of the globe for various exhibitions. A few of its temporary residencies are listed below:

  • Hiratsuka Museum of Art and Tobu Museum of Art, Japan
  • Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
  • Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut
  • North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

Jessica Hargett, former M&G Secondary Education Coordinator


Published in 2017

Object of the Month: July 2017


Stipo Bambocci, walnut                                     Stipo Bambocci, walnut

Italian, 16th century                                             Italian, late 16th to early 17th century

Click on links for additional reference information.

Most of us at one time or another have treasured and tucked away some poem, theme paper, or letter.  Your paper valuables may have been stashed in a simple cardboard box, but if you were living in Italy between 1560 and the early 1600s in the thriving cities of Genoa or Florence, your written mementos may have been stored in a tall, desk-like piece of furniture called a Stipo a Bambocci, loosely translated “a cabinet with carved babies.” As the style became popular, more iconographic carvings embellished the desk’s exterior, which is typical of the emerging Baroque period. Yet, the name’s association with “babies” persisted.

Beautifully fashioned out of two kinds of wood—burled-walnut and Caucasian walnut, the upper portions of the desks (not usually created at the same time as the lower cabinets) are completely removable, allowing a nobleman to tote just the top portion of his desk on his travels. The interiors, laden with multiple drawers and hidden caverns, beckon the imagination as to what might have been secretly stored within! Most often, a stipo a bambocci was secured with a lockable, fall front writing surface. Supported by lopers when lowered, the false front becomes positioned at a comfortable height for writing.


Mimicking the design of an Iberian desk called a bargueño, the production of stipi (plural for stipo) was short lived, a mere 60 to 70 years. Yet their substantial influence can be seen in a more common piece of furniture today known today as an escritoire or secretary.

Little is known about these early furniture makers; however art historian, Dr. Thomas Meyer, discovered in 2008 that Riccardo Taurini and his workshop were craftsmen of a specific stipo.  Meyer notes that the family of Taurini is considered to be the “fathers” of the stipi, blending their designs with inspiration from famous artists, architects and sculptors such as Rosso Fiorentino, Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau, Hugues Sambin, Leon Battista Alberti, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, and Andrea Palladio.

Almost as interesting as the desks’ construction are the various personages who formerly owned M&G’s unique pieces—the Royal Family of Savoy; an Austrian Archduke living in Lichtenstein Palace, Vienna; Myron C. Taylor, President Roosevelt’s personal representative to Pope Pius XII during World War II; and the industrialist and avid collector, Carl W. Hamilton of Philippine Refining Corporation. It is intriguing to consider what documents might have once been composed upon or stored within these beautiful pieces of furniture!

Though stipi are most often found today in house museums such as Museo Poldi-Pezzoli, Bagatti-Valsecchi and in the Castello Sforzesco, it is no surprise that M&G has two such unusual desks.  M&G’s furniture collection (which includes approximately 100 pieces predominately from the 1400s and 1500s) is almost as renowned as its collection of Old Masters. Joseph Aronson (1898-1976), an international European furniture authority, once remarked that “it is one of the finest collections of Renaissance furniture in America.” Aronson’s work, Furniture in the Bob Jones University Collection, as well as other significant volumes such as A Concise History of Interior Decoration by George Savage and A History of Italian Furniture by William M. Odom, both review these two stipi, and qualify M&G’s collection as a must-see for furniture lovers and historians everywhere.

Bonnie Merkle, Collection Database Manager and Docent


Published in 2017

Object of the Month: June 2017



Spanish, 17th century


Reliquary Head of a Monk


French, 14th century

figure 1: Reliquary Head of a Monk

Click on links for additional reference information.

While the Museum & Gallery is best known for its large collection of European Old Master paintings, the museum also contains around 2,000 objects, ranging from medieval tapestries to Renaissance furniture to ancient Egyptian artifacts.  Among these diverse and unique items, two reliquaries provide an interesting look at sacred art in object form.

Reliquaries are containers that were designed to hold relics, the remains of a saint or an object closely associated with the honored individual.  In their day, these relics varied from supposed fragments of the cross to the finger bones of saints.  Beginning with the reign of Charlemagne, every medieval church owned some kind of a relic, and it was common practice for people to venerate relics deemed particularly significant.  Literature from the medieval era, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, whose characters are on a journey (a pilgrimage) to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, reveals the integral role relics once filled in religious life.

figure 2: Reliquary

The first of M&G’s reliquaries is Spanish, dating from the seventeenth century (figure 2).  It is made of giltwood and has a small openings in the side of it, possibly designed to allow the worshipper to glimpse the relic within.  What that relic was, is unknown, and compared to M&G’s Reliquary Head of a Monk, (figure 1) this reliquary is simple in design and style.

On the subject of reliquaries, Barbara Drake Boehm, the senior curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, writes that “these complex containers in the form of parts of the body, usually mimicking the relics they enshrined, are one of the most remarkable art forms created in the Middle Ages for the precious remains of saints.” It is quite likely then, that M&G’s beautiful French reliquary designed to look like a face, once held the fragments of a skull—whose skull, remains a mystery.  Other reliquaries, more ornate but reminiscent in style, can be seen at the Aachen Cathedral in Germany.

As part of Roman Catholicism, the cult of relics had an interesting connection to the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.  In 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the church door of Wittenberg, Germany.  Frederick the Wise of Saxony, ruler of that region, had a collection of over 17,000 relics on display at the Church of Wittenberg.  M&G’s painting, Wittenberg, October 31, 1517, depicts a pilgrim, pictured towards the bottom far right with a shell on the outside of his cloak, coming into Wittenberg to venerate the relics at the church.

While M&G’s reliquaries no longer house the elements for which they were once designed, they provide a unique window into historical religious practices, serving as a lasting testament of the spiritual devotion of those who once venerated them.

Katie Neal, former M&G staff member and docent



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: May 2017

Allegory on the Fall and Redemption of Man

Oil on canvas

Lucas Cranach, the Younger

German, 1515-1586

Click on links for additional reference information.

Lucas Cranach the Younger and his father (also named Lucas) were prominent painters in the town of Wittenberg. The glory of Wittenberg was its university where Martin Luther taught and its village church where the great reformer posted his 95 Theses. At this time the printing press was still in its infancy and textual literacy still the purview of scholars. There was, however, a long tradition of using iconographic painting to educate the masses—most of whom were well-versed in “reading” images. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Cranachs, who were friends of Luther, would use their skill to instruct the populace in emerging Protestant theology. This painting which unfolds Luther’s tenet of justification by faith is a good example.

The tree in the center divides Cranach’s work into a two-chapter narrative that begins with the law (left side of the canvas). The tree overhanging the characters in these scenes is dead and bare—a signification of sin. Adam and Eve’s original transgression opens the story (upper left register). The continuity of sin throughout man’s history is then presented through the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf (toward the center in the upper left register). The high point of the chapter is “played out” in a final scene in the lower left register. Here we are introduced to a hooded prophet who joins Moses in drawing our (and the sinner’s) attention to the law. Condemned by these oracles, the unfortunate Everyman is hurried into hell by grotesque personifications of Death and Satan.

Chapter two opens in the lower right register under the tree’s green bough—a signification of life and resurrection. Here we see another prophet, but this one is facing John the Baptist who points this Everyman to the crucified Christ. At the foot of the cross is the risen Savior with Death and the Devil crushed under His feet. In the distant background is the Old Testament scene of the brazen serpent, referenced by Christ in John 3:14 and 15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Mary Magdalene, one who has inherited this life, stands with a Lamb (symbol of Christ) on the hillside. Above her in the clouds are the Savior’s feet, signifying both His ascension and His promise to return.

Cranach also inserts into this story one of his contemporaries, Phillip Melancthon (the figure in the hat in the lower right register). Melancthon, a colleague of Luther’s and writer of the Peace of Augsburg, was an important proponent of grace in his own right. One other interesting detail is the artist’s use of text from Romans and Galatians. These Latin verses are a nod to emerging literary forms, including the translations of Scripture that were becoming more accessible through Gutenberg’s press.

To see this work and learn more about the Cranachs and their relationship to the great reformer Martin Luther visit M&G’s exhibition Luther’s Journey:  Experience the History on the campus of Bob Jones University. For more information click here.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: April 2017

The Heavenly Shepherd

Oil on canvas

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Spanish, 1617–1682

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The streets of Seville are flooded with disease, poverty, and orphans. A little boy crouches underneath an awning to savor a loaf of bread while a five year old girl walks the streets with a basket of fruit to sell—scenes that could easily find their origin in a descriptive Charles Dickens’ novel.

However, seventeenth-century Spain, though bustling with exciting change, faced the hardships of political uncertainty and devastating plagues. Disease struck homes and left children destitute and alone.

One Baroque artist, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, saw Sevillian paupers in their miserable state yet painted them in an ideal setting. Unlike his contemporary Jusepe de Ribera, who filled his works with suffering and darkness, Murillo chose to display a more peaceful tone in his religious and genre paintings. His works display an idealized image of the poor commoners who lined the streets of Spain.

Born in Seville, Murillo matured as an artist under the influence of fellow Spaniards Zurbarán and Velázquez as well as by viewing art by the Baroque greats Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck. Although not as popular today, Murillo maintained a prosperous and successful career throughout his lifetime not only in Spain but also across Europe. At one point, the king of Spain halted export of Murillo’s work to keep these valuable treasures within his country’s borders.

M&G displays two of Murillo’s works, The Martyrdom of St. Andrew and The Heavenly Shepherd, both of which offer a somewhat gentle view of their subjects. The Heavenly Shepherd synthesizes the artist’s study of Sevillian street urchins with the time period’s focus on religious art. A similar version of this painting called The Good Shepherd resides in Madrid’s Prado Museum.

In The Heavenly Shepherd, Murillo provokes the viewer with Christ’s arresting gaze to consider the innocent, yet sober young Shepherd, and he subtly references symbols related to the life of Christ:

  • The purple robe hails Him as the King of Kings.
  • The shepherd’s staff extends as a scepter from Christ’s hand.
  • The ominous broken column signifies the broken and brief life of the Good Shepherd.
  • The sheep allude to the fold of God, His children.

By comparison, Murillo’s work seems like a precursor to Philippe de Champaigne’s The Christ of Derision. Rather than an endearing shepherd boy in a pastoral scene, Christ is portrayed as a physically abused, yet determined man. The foreshadowed death in the Murillo painting is about to unfold in the narrative of Champaigne’s portrait. Together both paintings in their own way point to the dark scenes of Christ’s life just prior to Easter morning’s triumph.

The Heavenly Shepherd stands as only one of many creations by Murillo, who remained a coveted artist until his own death—a result of a tragic fall from a painting scaffold. Murillo left behind an artistic legacy that portrayed Biblical characters and the Sevillian paupers in a fresh, tender manner.


Jessi Hargett, Secondary Education Coordinator



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: March 2017

Martin Luther Discovering Justification by Faith

Oil on canvas, Signed and dated: E M Ward, R A, 1868 (lower left)

Edward Matthew Ward, R.A.

English, 1816–1879


Edward Ward’s portrait of Martin Luther Discovering Justification by Faith draws on traditional elements of portraiture. Like most scholar portraits, this one places the sitter in his “study” surrounded by precious manuscripts and books on theology.

An enormous Bible is chained to the lectern. Bibles were rare and expensive to construct during the sixteenth century and were usually chained so that they would not be moved or lost. But here the chain is also symbolic. In the context of the reformer’s inner turmoil, the chain represents the inaccessibility of God’s Word—an obstacle that Luther is about to overcome through his discovery.  This moment of enlightenment is also foreshadowed by the light streaming in through the open window, a common motif symbolizing heavenly illumination.

In addition, the hourglass as a symbol of time represents not only the brevity of this life (through the falling sand) but also the possibility of resurrection (through reversing the glass).

Like Ward’s beautifully rendered portrait, the following fragment from Luther’s autobiography vividly captures the power of this moment:

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on new meaning, and whereas before ‘the justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me the gate of heaven.

Click on the dropdown information below for further insights:

Although opposed to the veneration of images, Martin Luther did not object to using art in worship or in education. According to Luther, images “are neither good nor bad.” They are “unnecessary and we are free to have them or not.” He went on to say that visual art may be of considerable benefit in preaching and teaching the good news (as his artist friends the Cranachs sought to do).  However, the leading Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli disagreed vehemently with Luther on this issue. Zwingli who preached for twelve years at the famed Grossmünster’s pulpit in Zurich ordered all altar paintings and statues removed from the church. This church, which still stands today, remains “quite bare, entirely stripped of the statues and paintings denounced by Zwingli.”


As the years passed the debate on the use of images in worship and religious education became less strident, though differences remained. For example, unlike Luther’s followers, artists like Jan Victors who embraced Calvin’s ideas refused to paint images of God (including God the Son), opting to focus on Old Testament scenes or New Testament parables.

Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was one subject that captured the imagination of those on both sides of the debate.  This Old Testament narrative adumbrating Christ’s atoning grace was central to all Protestant theologians, but the prophetic vehicle allowed artists who held views similar to Zwingli or Calvin to avoid violating their conscience in visually rendering God the Son.

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Lucas Cranach, the Elder, a friend and follower of Luther captures the climactic moment of the story.

The reproduction below is by one of Calvin’s followers, Jan Victors. Victor’s rendering of  the biblical narrative captures the intimate moment between father and son just before Isaac is bound the altar.






Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education



Published in 2017