On Corpus Christi Morning,
Painted by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793-1865),
Painted in 1857,
Oil on wood
© Belvedere, Vienna / On loan from the Society of Friends of the Österreichische Galerie Belvederea
Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.
It was late afternoon when the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, ‘Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty.’ They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.
Reflection on the painting
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller is considered one of the most influential painters of the Biedermeier style in 19th-century Vienna. Our painting titled On Corpus Christi Morning, depicts children of contrasting social classes. At the centre of our painting we see rich girls dressed in bright white dresses with circlets of flowers on their heads. They are being greeted by an old peasant woman. The children smile at her, while ignoring the other poorer children in the foreground. A poor girl on the left turns away from them, wiping a tear from her eye, visibly upset because she isn’t part of the group of immaculately dressed girls. A rich boy seems to taunt a poor girl who offers him flowers. While this painting, which is somewhat ambiguous, may not literally portray a Marxian notion of class conflict, it is does leave the viewer with a slightly uncomfortable feeling.
The most striking feature in this painting is the use of light. The sunlight is coming from the top right corner, illuminating the backs of the figures and casting long shadows. It is exquisitely painted. The children are all preparing joyfully for the Corpus Christi procession. Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, also called Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, in honour of the real presence of the body (corpus) of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
The feast of Corpus Christi was proposed by Thomas Aquinas to Pope Urban IV, in order to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist, emphasising the joy of the Eucharist being the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Processions soon started talking place where the Blessed Sacrament was carried through towns and villages. Our painting shows the children preparing for such a procession.
Happy feast day everyone!
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