Self-Portrait as a Deaf Man,
Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792),
Painted circa 1775,
Oil on canvas
© Tate Britain, London

Self-Portrait as a Deaf Man,
Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792),
Painted circa 1775,
Oil on canvas
© Tate Britain, London

Gospel of 14 February 2020

He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak

Mark 7:31-37

Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’

Reflection on the Painting

Here at Christian Art Today, we look at very different artworks every day. A myriad of choices can be made of what to select to sit next to the Gospel reading of the day. Yes, art has always been a way to show how an artist sees the world, and sees the biblical readings. Art is a personal experience that anyone at any skill level can use to express themselves. So deaf artists are as much active participants in the art world as any other artists. Deaf artists have been around for centuries, though they often do not get the recognition they deserve. For example, the first deaf person in history known by name, Quintus Pedius, was a talented Roman painter in the 1st century AD; or Francisco Goya, one of Spain’s most celebrated 18th century artists was left deaf after an illness in 1792, which had an impact on his artistic style of painting.

Our self portrait today is by Sir Joshua Reynolds, where we see the artist focussing on his own struggle to hear (he went deaf in later years).  It is a gentle portrait, where he is seen in a listening pose, with his left hand to his ear. We are not sure why he made this portrait. But as he regarded art to be uplifting, he probably wanted to uplift his deafness into an immortalising portrait. He always thought that his deafness made him see clearer. Unfortunately three years before his death, he also lost the sight in his left eye.

We all can sometimes be deaf… deaf to hearing God. Or we may all hear the word of God but not put it into practice… we can even receive the Eucharist but not be nourished by it. So just like the man in today’s reading who spent time with Jesus, we can ask Him to lay His hands on the ears of our hearts and loosen our tongues, so that we may hear, speak and witness God’s word too…

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