Marinus van Reymerswaele: The Unjust Steward
ArtWay Visual Meditation 27 August 2023
Marinus van Reymerswaele: Parable of the Unjust Steward
Mending the Relationship
by Patrick van der Vorst
This painting by Dutch Renaissance painter, Marinus van Reymerswaele from around 1540, depicts a scene from the parable of the dishonest servant in Luke chapter 16. To the reader’s surprise we hear that ‘the master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness’ (Luke 16:8). We can see the servant on the right, dressed almost as lavishly as his master. This is the artist's way to convey that the servant had probably been stealing money from his master. The servant is explaining what exactly he has been up to. Both hands are gesturing actively, showing that he is in mid flow of explaining things. Behind him on the right we see him talking to his master’s debtors one by one. Paperwork is being exchanged stating how each one's debt has been reduced and settled. Similar paperwork can be found in the master’s office on the left.
The expression on the master’s face is one of surprise, yet delight. He is pointing one hand at his working desk, the other towards the servant. To us, the servant’s conduct is reprehensible, as he has defrauded his master. But whether or not his actions were reprehensible or not is not the point of the parable; the point is that the master commends his servant not for his honesty but for his initiative. The servant knew he was in big trouble and about to lose his job, so he took initiative and acted to mend his relationship with his master. His decisiveness in a moment of crisis to restore relations with his master is what is being celebrated here.
In a world where we are surrounded with so many distractions, we can easily put things off and have a too-casual attitude in our faith. Today we are being prompted to shift ourselves into our next faith gear and kick into action to improve the relationship with our Master too.
Parable of the Unjust Steward: Painted circa 1540; Oil on panel; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
Marinus van Reymerswaele (c. 1490 – c. 1546) was a Dutch painter, born in Reimerswaal in Zeeland in the Northern Netherlands. He was mainly known for his genre scenes and religious compositions. After studying in Leuven and training and working as an artist in Antwerp, he returned later to work in his native Northern Netherlands. He operated a large workshop which produced many versions of mainly four themes: the tax collectors, the money changer and his wife, the calling of Saint Matthew and St. Jerome in his study. He died in Goes around 1546.
Patrick van der Vorst is a former Director of Sotheby’s Europe. He worked at Sotheby’s in Bond Street, London, from 1995 till 2010, as an auctioneer and Head of the Furniture Department. He left the company to set up his own online art valuation company, ValueMyStuff.com, often referred to in the press as the Antiques Roadshow online. With over 500,000 customers he sold the company in 2018 to pave the way to start seminary in September 2019. He joined the Pontifical Beda College in Rome for the Diocese of Westminster, London. He launched the www.Christian.Art website in the period after having left the art world and before starting seminary. In his daily reflections Patrick combines his knowledge of the arts, together with his personal journey to the priesthood. Patrick was ordained in Rome in June 2022 to the Diaconate. The mission of Christian Art is to offer a daily Gospel Reading paired with a related work of art and a short reflection. Its goal is to help people grow closer to God through the magnificent pairing of art and the Christian faith. https://christian.art
ART NEWS INTERNATIONAL
PETER HOWSON EXHIBITION – When the Apple Ripens: Peter Howson at 65, May 27–October 1, 2023, City Art Centre, Edinburgh. City Art Centre in Edinburgh is hosting a major retrospective of one of the UK’s leading figurative painters, Peter Howson. Curated by David Patterson, the exhibition brings together some one hundred works spanning the artist’s career, many never seen before in Scotland, with subjects ranging from working-class Glasgow men to the Bosnian War (into which Howson was sent as official war artist) to biblical stories. His work deals with themes of aggression, struggle, and faith. Artist and art educator Tessa Asquith-Lamb discusses five key works from the exhibition in this twenty-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwtknVkWsNw. “I like to bring the Bible into this world we live in today,” says Howson, who is a Christian. (He made headlines when he went public with the story of his religious conversion while undergoing treatment for alcohol and drug abuse in 2001.) Reflecting on the reception of and motivation behind his biblical works, he said in a recent video interview (30:31ff.): “There’s two camps of people. There’s the people that groan whenever they see a religious painting of mine, and they say, “Why can’t he stay away from religion?” It’s that kind of embarrassment about religion. They don’t like my religious art, but I continue to do it. . . . And then there’s the other people that actually are religious, but they don’t like it because it’s too frightening for their gentle, staid, normal religiousness. They don’t want anything nasty happening in their lives or anything that’s going to cause a stir. So to them it’s a big danger as well, the stuff I do, because it’s violent, it’s real. It’s like the consuming fire of God. The Bible is an incredible book. It’s a book that’s got everything in it, really. It’s got so much tragedy, violence, disaster, despair. It’s also got incredible revelation in it. It’s got incredible acts of love and kindness.” Read more (scroll down to the second item)
MORPHE ARTS PODCAST – 'The Art and Ideas of Corita Kent', a talk by Kath Hitchings, is now online. This talk was recorded on 14th July as part of Morphe’s Make Good series in London. Corita Kent was an American Pop Artist and nun, most active in the late 1960s. She was a visionary with an incredible view of both art and life. Her creative outcome was extraordinary but her actual teaching principles are equally exciting.
CONTEMPORARY ART REVISITS THE RENAISSANCE – In the American journal IMAGE Joanne Allen explores how contemporary artists use the Renaissance for inspiration: “Long ago, Old Master saints and biblical figures were something to be encountered only in reverential spaces like museums and churches. For today’s viewers, encountering devotional art among the vast mix of images we consume daily is nothing new. In some ways, that familiarity makes the Renaissance less potent, but contemporary artists have shown that there is something about these timeless masterpieces we can’t seem to forget.” Read Allen’s essay “Audacious Borrowing: Contemporary Art Revisits the Renaissance”.
PODCAST OF INTERVIEW WITH CANADIAN ARTIST BETTY SPACKMAN – In this interview in Radix, Betty shares with us some of her thoughts on the importance of art in general, common misconceptions that are held about it, what it means to be creative (and she thinks we all are), as well as some ideas on how Christians can meaningfully assist in helping the arts to flourish. Also—and this is important—Betty believes in the power of kindness and hospitality, and you’ll hear it come through in the interview. Read more
A PROFOUND WEAKNESS BY BETTY SPACKMAN – Since it went out of print people have asked about the possibility of getting an e-book version of the book, A Profound Weakness, Christian and Kitsch. Publisher Pieter Kwant of Piquant Editions, UK, has just made available a pdf download of the book for free. Here it is if you are interested: https://www.dropbox.com/.../pwvs1xkotuftn0rctygg4/APW.pdf.... NOTE: This is a temporary link - so download asap if you want it.
ARTWAY – We posted the blog Ethnoarts Scripture Engagement by Scott Rayl. Ethnoarts are artistic ‘languages’ that are unique to a particular community. They can help strengthen a community´s cultural and Christian identity. Read more
NEW BOOK BY JEREMY BEGBIE – Just out is a new book from Baker Academic by theologian and pianist Jeremy Begbie entitled Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World. Late-modern culture has been marred by reductionism, which shrinks and flattens our vision of ourselves and the world. Renowned theologian Jeremy Begbie believes that the arts by their nature push against reductionism, helping us understand and experience more deeply the infinite richness of God's love and of the world God has made. In Abundantly More Begbie analyzes and critiques reductionism and its effects. He shows how the arts can resist reductive impulses by opening us up to an unlimited abundance of meaning. And he demonstrates how engaging the arts in light of a trinitarian imagination (which itself cuts against reductionism) generates a unique way of sharing in the life and purposes of God. Theologians, artists, and any who are interested in how these fields intersect will find rich resources here and discover the crucial role the arts can play in keeping our culture open to the possibility of God. Read more
ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.
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- August 2023: Henry Moore: Reclining Figure
For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists