Elijah Fed by the Ravens
Rafael Govertsz. Camphuysen
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Oil on panel, monogrammed: D.F.
Maerten van Heemskerck was born the son of a farmer June 1498 in the Netherlands. He left the farm to study art under Cornelis Willemsz. in Haarlem and Jan Lucasz. in Delft. Between 1527-1530, Heemskerck placed himself under the tutelage of Jan van Scorel in Haarlem. M&G’s collection includes works by Scorel and Heemskerck’s biographer, Karl van Mander. Scorel had extensively studied in Utrecht (with Jan Gossaert), Germany (with Albrecht Durer), Switzerland, Venice, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Crete, and finally Rome. During his time in Rome, his artistic style was heavily influenced by the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. Scorel brought these new artistic ideas back with him to the Netherlands and taught them to Heemskerck.
Perhaps Scorel’s adventures inspired Heemskerck. Like many today in modern society, Heemskerck planned his own summer vacation. In 1532, he set off for an adventure with the primary purpose of seeing the Seven Wonders of the World. He left a parting gift for colleagues in the form of an altarpiece for St. Luke’s altar in Bavokerk depicting St. Luke painting Mary. He landed in Rome, July 1532. On his travels, he “made accurate, conscientious sketches of antique ruins and statues” (National Gallery of Art). He also was able to view for himself the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. In 1537, he returned to Haarlem where he remained for the rest of his life. He became well known for portraits, religious paintings, and producing designs for engravers.
M&G’s Jonah Under the Gourd Vine displays elements from Heemskerck’s travels. In the background behind Jonah, he includes the Vatican Obelisk as well as a bridge over the Tiber River which he probably saw during his time in Rome. In fact, the city of Nineveh looks more like the city of Rome than a city in the Middle East. Even the figure of Jonah mimics Michelangelo’s figures in The Creation of Adam. The whole composition imitates Heemskerck’s The Last Four Things as well as his Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World.
Heemskerck depicts the portion of the story of Jonah where he has finally obeyed God’s call to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh. In Jonah 1:1, God commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh and give the city a chance to turn from evil to God. However, Jonah thought that Nineveh deserved condemnation and judgment not mercy (Jonah 4: 2), so he attempted to run in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. Jonah’s disobedience resulted in his spending three days and three nights in the belly of fish before he repented, and God mercifully rescued him. Jonah now had a second chance to obey.
Jonah consented; he went and preached repentance to Nineveh. To his surprise, the whole city repented, including the king. Instead of rejoicing over those who repented, Jonah pouted in anger. Here Heemskerck portrays Jonah taking shelter under the leaves of a gourd vine overlooking the city of Nineveh with God looking down from the heavens. Trailing from his hand is a banner inscribed with BENE IRASCOR EGO VSQVE AD MORTEM IONA CA 4 16 which communicates Jonah’s true feelings: “Rightly I myself am exceedingly angry unto death, Jonah 4:16.” Having experienced God’s mercy first-hand and himself been given a second chance, Jonah should have delighted in God’s compassion. Sadly, he placed himself in the position of telling God what he believed God should have done—to pass judgment on the Ninevites. James 1:19-20 reminds us that unlike Jonah, we should follow God’s example and be “slow to wrath.”
M&G Collections Support Staff
Oil on panel
Dutch, c. 1604– d. 1677
Irony in life exists in the world of art as well as in other spheres. There are well-known artists that have died poor or their works were lightly esteemed. Such is the painter of M&G’s The Arrival at Emmaus, Aert van der Neer. He is one of many Dutch landscape artists of the seventeenth century. Born in Gorinchem in the northeastern part of the country and residing mainly in Amsterdam, he is part of the Dutch Golden Age. He was a steward in the early part of his adult life then became more involved in painting in his late thirties or early forties. His wife, Lisabeth, was the sister of artist, Rafael Govertsz Camphuysen (also represented in M&G’s collection).
While Aert died in poverty, one of his sons, Eglon excelled as an artist and ultimately settled in Dusseldorf as a court painter.
The style of van der Neer and his friendship with painter Aelbert Cuyp led them to work together on a number of paintings. Aert often painted the basic composition, and Aelbert would add the finer details. Works exist with the initials of both artists inscribed on them. However, M&G’s painting is signed only by Aert van der Neer as Neer. (include image: signature detail)
For the whole of his life, Aert never varied his painting style as seen in his many moon-lit landscapes and peopled scenes depicting a centrally placed river. Regardless of some of his repetitive compositional choices, he illustrated favorite parts of his country in an unmistakable way. His landscape style was so frequently imitated during and after his life that author Christopher Wright explains, “Thus—although this is not often realized—van der Neer can be said to have been one of the most influential Dutch painters.”
The Arrival at Emmaus joined M&G’s collection in 1974. It is one of the few scriptural subjects depicted by the artist. Luke 24:13-35 tells the narrative of Christ joining two, heavy-hearted disciples en route to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Christ asked about their conversation, and not recognizing Him, the two shared the tragic account of Christ’s crucifixion and their belief that His missing body could not be located. Little did they know as Christ explained the Old Testament messianic scriptures on their journey, that He was there with them. When they arrived in Emmaus after a nearly seven-mile journey, the two men graciously urged Him to “abide with” them. Christ took the position of host at their supper table and blessed and broke the bread. At that moment, He opened their eyes (v. 31) to understand Who He was—their risen Messiah. Then, with uncontained joy and full comprehension of why their hearts “burned within” as He had spoken the scriptures on the road, they immediately left Emmaus and returned to Jerusalem! There they exclaimed to the disciples that “the Lord is risen indeed” (v. 34).
Visible in this painting is the representation of Emmaus as a Dutch town. A seventeenth-century cathedral is prominent in the background as daylight is receding and the ducks begin nesting down for the night. The two disciples are seen inviting Christ to be their guest, a guest who would vanish from their sight and leave them with a greater realization of who He is. As the season of Advent approaches, may we too recognize who Christ truly is.
John Good, M&G Security Manager
Published in 2020