Beauty awakens the soul to act. Dante

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting

 ArtWay Visual Meditation 5 February, 2023 

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Laments the Destruction of Jerusalem

Who is Lamenting the City?

by Willem de Vink

Even when young, this image of a man allowing the misery of the world around him to enter his consciousness spoke to me: Jeremiah, lamenting over Jerusalem. I must have been about sixteen years old when I bought a reproduction of this painting by Rembrandt. I tried to look at the world in the same way when wandering through the city. Rembrandt painted it in the year before he moved from Leiden to Amsterdam, only twenty years old.

When looking at the painting, you experience the grief of the prophet. His eyes are cast down, his left hand supports his head, because sorrow weighs him down. Rembrandt positioned Jeremiah's weary figure diagonally in the picture, which brings a certain tension into the composition. In the distance below we see the golden city ablaze with fire; the whole painting is shimmering with the glow of the fire.

Israel is invaded by  Babylonians and has to submit to their superior strength. We can read about this history in four books of the Bible. First of all, of course, in Jeremiah, in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and in Lamentations, the book that begins with “Alas!” and is completely devoted to the fall of the temple city. Jerusalem, the place where God would dwell eternally, has been destroyed. King Zedekiah had his eyes put out (in the painting we faintly see him walking around to the left in the distance with his hands in front of his eyes). The citizens are carried off to Babylon, where they must survive as exiles.

The image of Jeremiah wailing over the city is more than a snapshot. It conveys a vision of the city that recurs time and again in the Bible. It begins with Cain. He built a city in rebellion against God, even though He had promised to protect him. But Cain rather protected himself. People build cities in order not to be dependent on their Creator. In doing so, they make themselves dependent on each other and the powerful can do as they like. That is why the Bible usually paints the city as a problematic place.

Not only Jeremiah, but Jesus also wept over Jerusalem. Even though the city was rebuilt after Jeremiah, its citizens continued to close themselves off from God. That is why Jesus, just like Jeremiah, lamented over her as over a beloved. Through his tears he said: ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes’ (Luke 19:42).

The Bible tells us that city dramas will continue until the moment that people will no longer build cities to hide from God, because God himself chooses to come and live with his people in a city. That is indeed a surprising turn in the history of cities! The New Jerusalem will come down from heaven to earth, as we read in the book of Revelation. It is as if God wants to say, ‘If you are so keen to have a city, then I will join in. But then it will be a city like I want it, the New Jerusalem.’ There we will recognise our superior in the Architect and Mayor of the city, who willingly provides us a place where we belong. ‘I will have compassion on your dwellings,’ God promises through Jeremiah.  

Also today it is important that there are humble people living in our cities, who have already bent their knee before God. Who are not attached to the city but live there as strangers, because they look forward to another city, representing something different, something new that will come. They pray for their city. They absorb what lives around them and give it back to God filtered by their tears. Just like Jesus and Jeremiah.


For further reading: 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Genesis 4:10-17; Luke 19:41-44; 21:20; 23:28-31; Revelation 21:1-5; 21:23-26; Jeremiah 30:18; 29:7; 29:11-14; Hebrews 11:10.

Rembrandt van Rijn: Jeremiah Laments the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630, oil on panel, 58 cm × 46 cm. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden, 1606 – Amsterdam, 1669) was a Dutch painter, etcher, and artist. He is generally counted as one of the greatest painters and etchers in European art and the most important Dutch master of the seventeenth century. In total, Rembrandt produced approximately three hundred paintings, three hundred etchings and two thousand drawings, the best-known being The Night Watch (1642). His work belongs to the baroque style and is influenced by Caravaggism, although he never visited Italy. His remarkable control over light and darkness, whereby he often used sharp contrasts (chiaroscuro), led to lively scenes full of drama. Rembrandt’s repertoire consisted of, among others, biblical scenes, historical pieces, and portraits, including a notable number of self-portraits.

Willem de Vink (Utrecht, b. 1957) is a Dutch speaker, writer, and illustrator. His picture story book Jezus Messias [Jesus Messiah] has been published in more than 200 languages. He also wrote the book Dit is liefde, Vincent [This is Love, Vincent]. He recently published the book In het hoofd van de maker, Creativiteit, Kunst, Kerk [In the Mind of the Maker: Creativity, Art, Church].



ART FOR CHANGE INTERNATIONAL ARTIST RESIDENCY 2023 – Theme: The Nature of Difference. Place: Landour, Mussoorie, India; Dates: 1 to 18 June 2023. The Art for Change International Artist Residency is an intense 2-week opportunity for nine international artists to create and learn alongside nine Indian artists in a collective exploration of a particular theme. The residency ends with a gallery exhibition of works produced. The 8th Residency, a collaboration with Woodstock School’s Centre for Imagination, Hanifl Centre and Summer School, is themed ‘The Nature of Difference’. The theme will be unpacked in the context of ‘Place’ and ‘Person’, of the Himalayas and India, exploring difference and diversity in nature, in us, in society and the world at large. The program will have a cohort of 9 international artists and 9 Indian artists, along with 3 mentors led by Dr. Rachel Smith from Taylor University, Indiana, USA. Within the framework of the residency, we look to explore nature as a teacher, encouraging investigations to our relationship with environment, and through it draw to deeper ideas on stewardship, beauty, the purpose of art and what it means to be human. Application for International Artists close on 31 March 2023 and applications for Indian national artists will open on 1 April 2023. Apply online at More information

MESSY MAGNIFICAT CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – US based CHRISTIANS IN THE VISUAL ARTS (CIVA) is profiling Messy Magnicat which is currently accepting original submissions for an anthology of words and images of Christian motherhood. Find out more here:

WATCH DEBORAH LEWER ON DADA – On the Morphe website you can watch a talk focusing on Dada art by art historian Deborah Lewer. Deborah looks at the Dadaists in their historical context, touching on their relevance for today. The title of the talk is Refusal, Resilience and Renewal: Dadaist Strategies For A Fractured Age and can be watched here.

NEW BOOK ABOUT SWISS SCULPTOR HANS THOMANN – Judith Annaheim, Dorothée Mesmer, Roland Wäspe, Thomas Zeuge, Hans Thomann: HUMAN BODY FIGURE. Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2022. Languages: German, English

English info: The human figure is a constant in the work of Hans Thomann (*1957). The sculptor is interested in the question of how people present and perceive themselves. Thomann sounds out cultural conceptions, which quite often turn out to be fragile illusions, in life-size human sculptures of figures from Superman and dwarves to Jesus. Ambivalence, just like humor, is one of the artist’s constant companions. With his works, which include numerous installations in public space and commercial premises, Hans Thomann continuously reflects on human existence. His examinations also comprise sacred spaces, in which he realizes critical or provocative interventions.

German info: Das Buch präsentiert Hans Thomanns Werk erstmals in seiner ganzen Breite. Dabei stehen seine Arbeiten voll und ganz im Mittelpunkt. Genauso wie er sich intensiv mit dem Mensch-Sein als körperliches und geistiges Wesen zwischen Himmel und Erde auseinandersetzt und dies in seinen Arbeiten auf überraschend erfrischende Weise tiefsinnig zum Ausdruck bringt. Kurze Statements aus seinem Bekanntenkreis und eine Chronik seiner Kunst am Bau, seiner umfassenden Ausstellungstätigkeit und der vielen Publikationen zu seinem Werk runden den eindrucksvollen Bildband ab. More info

ONLINE LECTURE NATIONAL GALLERY LONDON – 14 February, 5 pm – 6 pm, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, online: VIRTUAL EXHIBITION Fruits of the Spirit: Love in Focus. Join Rev Dr Ayla Lepine, curator of the virtual exhibition 'Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart', for an in-focus consideration on the theme of love. Taking Titian’s ‘The Virgin Suckling the Infant Christ’ and its exhibition partner Ernst Neuschul’s ‘Black Mother’ from Leicester Museum and Art Gallery as its starting point, this session will explore how love is expressed in a selection of works from the National Gallery Collection. 

ONLINE LECTURE ENGLISH L’ABRI – 10 February, 18.30 u, English L’Abri, The Manor House, Greatham, Liss, lecture, in person or on zoom: A Wild Whisper of Something Originally Wise: Restoring the Plausibility of Transcendence through the Arts. Mark Meynell, Author. Langham Partnership. We will explore how to understand the impact of living in a secular context for Christian witness and to show how the arts are crucial for breaking through the intellectual barriers that secularism uses to prevent people grasping the gospel.

ONLINE LECTURE ENGLISH L’ABRI – 17 February, 19.30 h, English L’Abri, The Manor House, Greatham, Liss, Lecture, in person or on zoom: The Arts as a Means to Love. Mary McCampbell, Author, Associate Professor of humanities at Lee University. We will look at how the arts expand our imaginations and, in so doing, embolden our ability to love our neighbours as ourselves.   

ADRIENNE DENGERINK CHAPLIN IN NEW ZEALAND – From 13 February – 2 March Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin will give a course and some lectures in various places in New Zealand. Read more here

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

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