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Picture Books of the Past: Edwin Long

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

During his lifetime, Edwin Long took several extended trips to Egypt and Syria and the images sparked by these memorable journeys are clearly evident in this beautiful rendering of Vashti from the book of Esther.

Object of the Month: October 2021

Majolica Charger

Glazed earthenware, signed G. Battaglia

Gaetano Battaglia

Italian, c. 1826-1887

Majolica is earthenware that has been fired in a kiln, coated with an opaque white glaze, decorated with other pigments and fired again, fixing the glaze and design onto the ceramic. The process originated in Africa around the 6th century. By the 13th century, techniques and the ability to paint detailed designs were perfected. It was discovered that a clear glaze and a third firing added luster to the piece.

Italians became enamored of these decorative ceramics. Large quantities were produced in Africa and Spain and passed through ports on the Spanish island of Majorca on their way to Italy. Thinking the pieces had been made there, Italians called this kind of ceramic majolica or maiolica.

By the Italian Renaissance, techniques for producing majolica ceramics had reached Italy. Ceramists produced decorated plates, jars, cups, pitchers, and ornamental pieces. Often the item featured a portrait of a bride, a family member or some notable. Apothecary jars bearing the name of their contents were embellished with scrolling vines, leaves, flowers, and fruits. Wealthy families would display large sets of dishes and serving pieces which were used to impress guests at elaborate banquets.

Often these pieces were istoriato, meaning they illustrated a story—usually mythological, historic, or biblical. Sometimes the narrative would cover the entire surface of the piece; other times, as seen on M&G’s charger, the picture would be surrounded by intricately designed borders. Today museums and collectors prize even the broken pieces of Italian Renaissance majolica.

Although it may look it, M&G’s Majolica Charger is not dated to the Italian Renaissance. In the late 1800s, there was a resurgence of interest in the Italian Renaissance ceramic design, and Italian ceramists produced high quality stoneware in the Renaissance style to meet the demand. M&G’s charger is one such piece.

Making Majolica

Creating an elaborate majolica requires great skill. Not only must the clay be formed and fired carefully, but the tin oxide glaze which dries into an opaque, white surface must also be evenly applied. Colored glazes are then painted onto the prepared surface. The color palette is extremely limited. Black, yellow, blue, golden brown, and green were used on M&G’s charger—typical of majolica designs. Diluting, concentrating, or mixing the glaze pigments can produce various shades of colors.

Painting on the porous white surface is extremely unforgiving. Once applied, the pigment cannot be removed or hidden by painting over it.  Adding pigment to the initial layer produces different effects; however, the original brush stroke, as well as any additional painted strokes and colors in subsequent layers must be adeptly applied. There is no way to repair a mistake.

Consider the border on the lip of M&G’s charger. The inner ring consists of an amber background with 50 hand-drawn, double circles of two different intensities of a golden-brown pigment. The outer border contains 8 fauns, 4 winged angel heads, and 4 angel torsos arranged among scrolling foliage and architectural flourishes. These are arranged in four matching quadrants. The figures are outlined in black and shaded with gray. After the black outlines were painted, the intense blue background areas were painted individually. The lip alone required a precise, highly skilled artisan.

Gaetano Battaglia

Painters of istoriato majolica scenes were consummate craftsmen, such as Gaetano Battaglia (c. 1826-1887). During his lifetime he was known as “a painter of figures.” His exquisite work, often large ceramics with Battaglia’s signature, are in museums and private collections.

His career started around 1850 in Naples, Italy, but little is known of his early works or employment. When the Mosca brothers founded Raffaele Mosca & Compagno in 1865, they hired Battaglia, and he helped them hire other ceramic painters. During the company’s more than 40-year history, its name and ownership repeatedly changed. Mosca produced architectural ceramics and decorative pieces, and it was known for producing an “odorless toilet,” patented by one of the brothers. Battaglia’s duration at the firm, however, is unknown.

Most ceramic painters of the period did not (or were not permitted to) sign their pieces. While many works are attributed to Battaglia, most earthenware known to be his are inscribed with his signature or initials. Generally, his signature is paired with the letter “N” or with “Napoli” for Naples. M&G’s Majolica Charger bears both Battaglia’s signature and an “N” on the reverse.

The specific company that produced many of Battaglia’s signed pieces, however, is unknown. The “Fca” on M&G’s charger (which appears as “Fabb” on other Battaglia pieces) presumably stands for Fabbrica, Italian for “factory.” At that time there were numerous ceramic companies in Naples which had Fabbrica as part of their name. Battaglia may have worked for one of those companies or fired his earthenware designs in a hired kiln, which was a known practice at the time.

The Image

For istoriato earthenware, ceramists in the 1800s often referenced narrative etchings as their design source. The artists would also sketch scenes found in galleries, churches, and palaces as inspiration for their works. A popular image would often be painted by different ceramists on various earthenware pieces, but the source of the design can help identify the narrative’s subject.

M&G’s Charger appears to be unique in that the source of the narrative image is unknown, and no other ceramics are known to have a similar subject. Therefore, only details in the image can be used to determine the pictorial scene. The flowing, loose-fitting garments on the three main figures are of the type artists of the time used for Biblical characters. The winged angel pointing a direction and the three putto leading the procession further suggest a Biblical illustration.

For many years, Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt was the title associated with the charger; however Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus were the only Biblical characters involved in the secretive escape from Herod’s slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:13-21). The missing infant Jesus and the second adult male on M&G’s charger make this assumption unlikely. Also, the angel instructing Joseph to take his family to Egypt appeared to him in a dream prior to the journey and is rarely included in paintings of the subject by the Old Masters. Additionally, the Holy Family was of modest means and traveled discreetly; yet the charger depicts a large entourage of people and animals behind the three mounted figures. Neither does the imagery follow typical illustrations of the family’s return from Egypt.

More likely the scene is Abraham, his wife Sarah, and nephew Lot on their departure to Canaan. God directed Abraham to travel “unto a land that I will shew thee.” A pointing angel and the procession of putto are used as an artistic rendering of God’s directing the travelers. The 75-year-old Abraham, his “fair. . . to look upon” wife, and the younger Lot correspond to the mounted figures on the charger. Their servants, belongings, and herds are depicted following the main figures (Genesis 12).

While a great deal is known about M&G’s charger, many questions remain unanswered. Was this rarely depicted scene part of a set of dishes and serving pieces illustrating various biblical scenes? If so, do other pieces of the set exist? Or was this piece a unique, limited commission for a specific purpose? More research may reveal answers, but some specifics may never be known, which only adds interest to M&G’s mysterious, beautiful Majolica Charger.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

Published 2021

Suggested References:

  • Tortolani, La fabbrica napoletana dei fratelli Mosca: il Bello e l’Utile, in “Faenza,” XCIII, 2007, p. 62
  • Fiorillo, Ciro. 1992. “Gaetano Battaglia maiolicaro a Napoli.” In Quaderni dell’Emilceramica: storia e tecnica della ceramica particolarmente nell’arredo domestico e urbano16: 3–8.
  • Municipal Galleries at Palazzo Ciacchi

Object of the Month: August 2019

Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons

Oil on canvas

Edwin Long, R.A.

English, 1829-1891


Vashti showcases Edwin Long’s interest in archeological discovery, religious history, and female beauty on a grand scale, interests that reflect those of the Victorian era in which he lived. And the story of the two queens of Xerxes, king of Persia, is tailor made for both his interests and his skills. Like other religious painters of the era, such as William Holman Hunt, Long actually visited the Holy Land to gain firsthand knowledge. He combined this trip with various print sources such as volume III of George Rawlinson’s The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World (1862-67) and Austen Henry Layard’s studies from Nineveh in order to create this painting of convincing Orientalism. Originally exhibited at Burlington House in 1879 with its companion piece, Queen Esther, the two paintings taken together (though not exhibited side by side) offer food for thought both on the characters of these impressive women and the critical period in which they lived. 

Vashti opens the story of Esther with a dramatic refusal to appear at her husband’s banquet for the rulers of the Persian kingdom. Whether she refuses out of modesty (her crossed arms seem to support this position) or because she herself is hosting a banquet for the wives of the rulers, her refusal is seen as a harbinger of marital unrest in the kingdom if her disobedience goes unanswered. So the king is persuaded to depose her as queen and seek a new one. There are several indications that Vashti recognizes the serious implications of her rebellion. She is remonstrated by her maidens, there is an apparent altercation at the door between those delivering her refusal and those demanding her acquiescence, and her body language suggests that she is afraid of what is to come. 

The symbolism so greatly loved by the Victorians comes into play through the great lion on which she sits. An emblem associated by the Persians with their great power, the lion reflects both the power that has made her queen and the power which she will be unable to thwart. Though the lion is itself slain and has lost its power over her, even serving as a bench cushion; one lone woman cannot stand against an Eastern potentate. Her name which means “Beautiful One” in Persian appropriately reflects her physical beauty, likely the avenue to her queenly position. However, beauty is hardly a weapon against the mighty Persians. Or is it?

Consider the story of Hadassah or Esther as most know her today. An entire book of the Bible, one in which there is no direct mention of Jehovah, chronicles a few brief years of a young Jewish maiden who had “come to the kingdom” (Esther 4:14) at a crucial time, not just as a result of the whim of the queen. Long means for viewers to examine these women in light of each other.  A cursory glance reveals that the two paintings are meant as companions: the matching frames, the seated central figures, the inquisitive gaze and pose of the servant girl, the visible sandaled foot of both women. Even the “X” created by the arms of Vashti and the jewelry of Esther juxtapose these two women and their plights: one is apparently guarding her beauty from the ravaging eyes of the rulers, the other finds her beautiful figure emphasized in the king’s competition. 

Both women are “caught” by their positions though their gazes differ: Vashti’s gaze foreshadows her fall from favor while the frank gaze of the powerless girl (even her beauty is no match for an unextended scepter) foreshadows her strength of spirit.  The adorned Esther has put down the mirror, rejecting the offer of more jewels. Instead, just prior to being veiled and taken to Xerxes, she looks directly at the viewer. This gaze, though solemn, reveals no fear in the innocent young girl (notice the lilies on the wall relief behind her) who by the next day will be either a mere concubine or the queen. The mythical griffins embroidered on the hem of her gown were figures used to guard the gold of the Persians and are another indication both of the marketplace contest she is part of and her inability to escape. Yet Esther has an inner strength that enables her to risk death at the hands of the king—in order to invite him to dinner! 

Though Vashti is gone by the end of the first chapter of Esther, she begins the rising action of the story whose crisis is faced by her youthful successor. Without the brave action of Vashti, Esther would not have been in place to rescue her people. And without the brave action—and clever thinking—of Queen Esther, the Israelites would have lost their stand against the “divine” power (note the stylized sun on the end of the mirror handle and on Vashti’s belt) of the pagan Persians at the hands of Haman. If “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1), it is certain the hearts of queens are as well. Edwin Long’s works draw attention to both the historical tensions in the Persian royal court and the metanarrative of the Israelites’ position as God’s chosen people. 

Dr. Karen Rowe, M&G Board Member


Published in 2019

Object of the Month: March 2019

The Resurrection

Gilt silver

Vasiliy Fedotovich  Il’in (active 1837–57), silver maker

D. Tverskoy (active 1834–50), assay master

St. Petersburg, 1849


For nearly 70 years, the Museum & Gallery has shared with communities at home and abroad its primary focus: a collection of European Old Master paintings ranging from the 14th–19th centuries. Yet, M&G is more than paintings. The Collection includes furniture, decorative arts, textiles, and objects of art as well as Middle-Eastern antiquities with examples from the reputed British Egyptologist, Sir Flinders Petrie.  Of special note and often overlooked, however, is the Russian collection, including icons from the 14th through early 20th centuries.

Unlike a Renaissance or Baroque painting of Western Europe idealizing the figures and blending realism and symbolism into the image, icons present an altogether different and somewhat mysterious approach to the same religious subjects. Frequently referred to as “otherworldly,” these meticulously executed images are rich in symbolism and create an awe and respect for the spiritual meaning of the depicted events and characters.  

In this example, the icon’s composition and naturalistic qualities reflect a Western treatment of the Resurrection, rather than the painted Orthodox versions. On its face is the inscription, Voskreseniye Christovo, meaning The Resurrection of Christ.  And, on the front hanger is inscribed: Christos Voskryes or Christ is Risen.

For its size of a mere 7 7/8″ x 5 5/16″, this beautiful gilt silver oval icon achieves unusual spatial depth. In the foreground is the resurrected Christ carrying the triumphal banner and two angels—one rolling the stone away from the tomb and the other holding the burial cloths. In the middle ground are the three Marys carrying the spices to the tomb on that first day of the week; and in the distance, St. Vladimir’s cross appearing in the rays of the morning sun next to the city of Jerusalem. 

In addition to the fine craftsmanship and sophisticated handling of the silver, the icon bears a historically significant inscription engraved on its reverse: To the Sovereign Emperor and Autocrat of all Russians, Nikolai Pavlovitch and the Sovereign Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, on the day of the Resurrection of Christ, April 3rd, 1849. This humble offering from the peasant of Count Sheremetiev, Vasiliy Fedotov Il’in, made by his own hand.

The icon’s inscription reveals that it was a gift to Tsar Nicholas I created by a serf-artist employed by the richest Russian landowner in the 19th century, Count Dmitri Sheremetev. Historical documents reveal that the count was attending a conference for Russian nobility in April 1849, and it was on this occasion that he presented the icon to the Romanov tsar for Easter.

At the bottom there is a hallmark of crossed anchors and a scepter, which means it was made in St. Petersburg. The number 84 denotes the Russian standard content of silver. There is also a documented hallmark for the maker: ФИ, transliterated as FI for the skillful silversmith Fedot Il’yin (active 1837–1857). He began as a serf for Sheremetev, but ultimately earned his freedom and owned his own workshop. He was a master craftsman for creating church accessories and the icon oklads and lampadas.

Historically, the Sheremetev family is recognized for its generous philanthropy, particularly for its contribution and promotion of art and culture in Russia by developing artists and founding and supporting theatres, orchestras, choirs, concert halls.  Dmitri, the patron of this icon, was the son of Count Nicholas Sheremetev who married his leading serf-actress Praskovia Ivanova Kovaleva, (her stage name was Zhemchugova). Dmitri’s mother died of tuberculosis 3 weeks after giving birth. Count Nicholas Sheremetev began a charitable institution—a shelter or hospital for the sick and homeless—in memory of his late wife. 

As heir to his father’s fortune, he inherited some 180,000 serfs and 15,000 square miles of land. Dmitri served in the military and later married Anna Sergeyevna Sheremeteva (1810-1849), lady-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.  Years following her death, he married again to Alexandra Melnikova Fosdick (1825-1874).  He devoted himself to philanthropic work like his father—investing in hospitals, churches, orphanages, and education. 

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2019

Object of the Month: December 2018

The Visitation

Oil on canvas

Johann Friedrich Overbeck

German, 1789-1869

Friedrich Overbeck began art instruction at age 15 under the tutelage of Joseph Nikolaus Peroux. He then learned from artists in Hamburg and through close study of Italian Renaissance works on display. The move to Vienna in 1806 enabled him to study at the Akademie and learn the principles of drawing in the academic tradition. This traditional approach, however, led him to reject those principles and adopt the teachings of Eberhard Wächter, particularly in the area of moral tone. One of the fascinating concepts about the sister arts (writing, drawing, music, and sculpture) is that principles from one art often apply to another. So, the idea of moral tone, usually applied to literature, is quite appropriate to discuss in the area of painting.  Overbeck infused his religious beliefs into his beginning work in oils, an emphasis which became a hallmark of his work, especially following his 1813 conversion to Roman Catholicism. His family heritage was religious as well; the three previous generations of men in his family were ministers. It was Friedrich who broke with the family calling. 

Although, it would be wrong to say that he abandoned the ministry; his works “preach” in merely another medium. In 1809 he and friends began the group Brotherhood of St. Luke, also known as the Nazarenes. Living in an abandoned monastery and adopting a biblical style of hair and dress led to “Nazarene” becoming a derogatory term. The Brotherhood’s motivation to reject the sensuality and artistic virtuosity of artists beginning in the sixteenth century was accompanied by a belief that all art should serve a moral purpose. Their work emphasizes Christian symbolism and bright clear colors which are hallmarks of the later Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood members such as William Holman Hunt and Frederic James Shields.

While Overbeck embraced the art before Raphael, he also admired Raphael’s style. A look at The Visitation drawn c. 1517 by Raphael (in the Prado since 1837), suggests that Overbeck may have seen the master’s composition. The headdress of Elizabeth is strikingly similar to that in Overbeck’s painting as is the hairstyle of the Virgin. But there are purposeful differences as well. Raphael’s Virgin has no ornamentation on her dress; however, Overbeck chooses to give Mary a gold band of ribbon or lace, contrasting her gown with the matronly garb of her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, and showing her superiority.  

Overbeck also indicates Mary’s elevated position as the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ through the physical positioning of the figures. Though Elizabeth is heavily pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, she is positioned kneeling toward her younger relative. Luke 1:39-56 details the interaction between the women. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth proclaims a three-fold blessing on Mary: she is blessed as a chosen woman, she is carrying the blessing of mankind’s Savior, and she is blessed for her faith in the promise of the Lord through Gabriel.  Then Luke records Mary’s praise of the Lord, the Magnificat.  Appropriately enough, Elizabeth gazes into the distance while Mary looks heavenward in a sign of her understanding of the privilege and position she has been accorded by God. John’s movement in Elizabeth’s womb at the arrival of his Lord is undoubtedly one of those things that Mary will keep and “ponder in her heart.”

In another work, Overbeck features Mary and her cousin, Mary and Elizabeth with Jesus and John the Baptist.  The title indicates the characters in the painting; yet the accepted iconography and religious symbolism of the time provides clear and immediate identification.  Mary is found in her blue robe holding her missal. John the Baptist wears his clothing of camel’s hair and grasps a sheep, signifying his task of proclaiming that his cousin Christ is the “Lamb of God.”  Christ, sitting on the lamb, could not be more closely identified as that “Lamb.”  In addition, He holds John’s cross-shaped staff indicating the manner in which the “Lamb of God” will be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  The background of this painting is more reminiscent of Raphael’s work with its Italian landscape; such scenery suits this family portrait. However, Mary’s Magnificat focuses on the Lord God, so this portrait-like composition of The Visitation directs the viewer’s attention to her message by eliminating a distracting setting. 

Overbeck’s biographer, Joseph Beavington Atkinson (1822-1886) records the artist’s mission in life: “Art to me is as a harp of David, whereupon I would desire that psalms should at all times be sounded to the praise of the Lord.”  The sacred mood and expression of Christian piety, the beautiful colors, and the clean lines found in The Visitation fulfill his mission well.

Dr. Karen Rowe, M&G Board Member and Volunteer Membership Coordinator 


Suggested Reading: Overbeck by Joseph Beavington Atkinson


Published in 2018

Object of the Month: August 2018

The Martyrdom of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas

Oil on canvas, Signed and dated, Félix Leullier, 1880

Félix Louis Leullier

French, 1811–1882

In this arresting example of the nineteenth-century Romantic style, Felix Louis Leullier uses all the forces of paint and position to create a gruesome depiction of one of the most famous martyrdoms of the Christian church. Little known outside of France, Felix trained with Antoine-Jean Gros, renowned for his depictions of some of Napoleon’s famous battles: Battle of Arcole, Napoléon on the Battlefield of Eylau, and Battle of Abukir. Gros leaves little to the imagination in the spheres of conflict and conquest, so it is no wonder that his student, Felix, would choose to depict a martyrdom in a context resembling the twisted forms often found on a battlefield.  

The painting’s setting is the Roman Amphitheatre in Carthage, the North African center of Christianity in the early centuries following Christ’s death and resurrection; there is little more than an outline remaining today of the prominent structure that seated 30,000. Although Felix most likely did not travel to that part of the world, he could have easily participated in a Grand Tour, a customary excursion in the 18th and 19th centuries for men coming of age, to see and learn from the culture and histories of antiquity. Such a broadening and experiential trip included significant time in Rome, where the Colosseum was a chief point of interest and which is very similar to Carthage’s own great amphitheater. The combined influence of travel and exposure to prominent depictions like Granet’s Interior View of the Colosseum in Rome, 1804 and Towne’s The Colosseum, 1781, Leullier opts to create only a faint representation of an outdoor arena.  

On March 7, 203 AD, under the rule of the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, the noblewoman Vibia Perpetua, was executed with her handmaid, Felicitas, and fellow catechumens, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus. Just a few years earlier in 197 AD in his treatise Apologeticus, Tertullian had posited that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” As providence would have it, Tertullian himself was eyewitness and later chronicler to the gripping event portrayed in this work.  

In addition to Tertullian’s account and Perpetua’s own prison diary, Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis, in which she captures much of the detail up until the hour of her entrance into the arena, many attempts to present the event have been created in various media formats. It is contained in older volumes like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), as well as in more recent accounts like Thomas J. Heffernan’s The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity (2012). It is visible in paintings, drawings, mosaics, stained glass and illuminated manuscripts like Menologion of Basil II; and it has been presented in investigative journalism in the PBS Frontline series, From Jesus to Christ (1998). 

Leullier’s visual rendering is indeed grand both in presentation and size, measuring nearly seven feet high by nine feet wide. Though literary works relate that Perpetua and Felicitas were martyred separately from the men, Leullier deviates from the historical account and instead depicts the entire company—the martyrs, the men that assaulted them, and the many animals that mauled them. By placing the massacre in the forefront of the work, the purity and testimony of these Christians’ story cannot be ignored.

Bonnie Merkle, M&G Database Manager and Docent


For further enrichment:


Published in 2018

Object of the Month: April 2018

The Ascension

Oil on canvas, 1883

Gustave Doré

French, 1832–1883

Louis Auguste Gustave Doré (1832-1883) is justly known as the greatest illustrator ever. His genius was recognized when he was a child, and his photographic memory allowed him to include minor details often overlooked by others. 

He began his prolific professional career at the age of 15 as an illustrator for the humorous magazine Journal pour Rire. During his relatively short life, he produced at least 8,000 wood engravings, 1,000 lithographs, 700 zinc engravings, 100 steel engravings, 50 etchings, 400 oil paintings, 500 watercolors, 800 mixed-media sketches, and 30 major works of sculpture.

While many admire Doré’s work, few people actually recognize his art, even having grown up seeing his pictures. His New and Old Testament illustrations became the most widely used and familiar images in twentieth-century Bible literature. He also created several large series of engravings for classics including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, Perrault’s Fairy Tales, The Divine Comedy and more.

Historically, illustrators have received little recognition for their artistic careers compared to their “fine art” counterparts. Doré was equally productive in creating oil paintings and sculpture, and his greatest ambition was to be respected primarily for his painting career; however, he is best remembered as an illustrator. 

M&G’s Collection has two of his most important religious paintings—The Ascension and Christ Leaving the Praetorium, both completed in 1883. 

As is typical of many artists, Doré created multiple versions of his works. His first version of The Ascension was completed in 1879 and measures almost twice the size of M&G’s painting, which is an imposing 11’ 11” tall by 7’ 8” wide!  The original Ascension hung with other religious works in the German Gallery of London (later called the Doré Gallery) where the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon frequented and encouraged his congregation to visit. 

Sketches that Doré made while riding the newly invented hot-air balloon with his photographer friend, Felix Nadar, probably inspired The Ascension’s aerial perspective—the viewer is on the plane of the ascending Christ with the disciples small and distant standing on the ground. The rich greens and golds in Doré’s thick brushstrokes create excitement and energy at the end of Christ’s earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly role. The angels’ response in Acts 1:11 voices the painting’s story, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” 

John Good, Docent and Security Manager

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2018

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: 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

Object of the Month: September 2016

King James Bible, Third Folio Edition, 1613

Fore-edge Painting of “Caleb’s Daughter Pleading for a Watered Land” and “Christ at the Well of Sychar”

John T. Beer, fore-edge artist

ca. 1826–1903

On loan from the Collection of Jason and Ruth Speer

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

The Collection on display at M&G has a wide array of objects—not exclusively Old Master paintings, but furniture, wood carvings, architectural elements, stained glass, and more.  The value of visiting a well-rounded display presents a broad view of the lives and cultures of people in the past.  As you visit, you begin to see how little a difference there is between us today and those hundreds of years ago.  Back then, the people had their innovative technologies, shortcuts, and battles with “old and new” just as we have today.

One such debate between the past and future has to do with books: bibliophiles who love the smell of a book and feel of its pages and others who prefer an e-reader or watching the movie instead.

Successful Victorian clothier from Merseyside, England, John T. Beer was most definitely a book lover in its purest meaning.  He demonstrated his affection for books, not only by collecting hundreds for his library but by decorating them too.

Unlike the spine and covers of books, the page edges are not usually decorated; however this 1613 Bible (on loan from a private collection to M&G) illustrates an obscure art form, called fore-edge painting revealing an image on the fourth edge of the book. Most often, this art is only seen when the edges of the book are fanned open at the appropriate angle; then, when the book is closed shut, the image is obscured.

These two Biblical narratives, Caleb’s Daughter Pleading for a Watered Land and Christ at the Well of Sychar are hand-painted by Beer. He is considered one of the most highly skilled artists of fore-edge painting and one of the most original thinkers in developing scenes to paint. He produced nearly 200 fore-edge paintings in his retirement years using books from his own collection, like this one.

According to Jeff Weber, who has collected data on more than 20,000 fore-edge examples and authored the Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Painting Artists & Binders, John T. Beer is “the only fore-edge painting artist from the nineteenth century that is known by name.”

Bookbinders were primarily the artists applying fore-edge painting and commissioned by book owners; although some anonymous, yet professional artists embellished too.  So, “it is rare for a collector to apply fore-edge paintings to books in his own collection… [but] he decorated his own books simply for the joy of doing so,” blogs Erin Black from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Interestingly in viewing this large book, Beer beautified a Bible in his collection, which reveals some insights into the era. The religious complexion of Victorian society was varied; however, one uniting factor was the centrality and presence of Scripture. The stories, references, and allusions to the Bible were instantly familiar across the range of Victorian society.  This 1613 King James Third Folio Edition of the Bible provides an example not only of the era’s traditional values, but also the Victorians’ appreciation for literary and artistic skill.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2016