Painting by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450-1516),
Painted between 1496 and 1520,
Oil on panel
© Saint-Germain-en-Laye Civic Museum, France
Jesus instructed the Twelve
Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master. It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, what will they not say of his household?
‘Do not be afraid of them therefore. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.
‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.
‘So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.’
Reflection on the painting
Jesus continues in our reading to give instructions to his disciples prior to sending them out on their first independent mission to spread the Good News. His instructions apply to us too, but probably the main message in today's reading is that our ministry requires focus!
Most artworks carry focus too, especially in paintings. Often one particular section is highlighted, or a perspective is focussed on one detail. This focus directs the eye of the viewer to one particular part of the painting. An artist drawing a landscape - for example, a mountain, a small house with a road leading up to it, and perhaps some sheep and people -needs to decide what the focal point is. Is it the house or the people or the mountain? Deciding on the focal point will lead the viewer to read the painting more easily and understand the subject of the painting.
Our painting by Hieronymus Bosch has a very clear focal pint. If one draws to diagonal lines from each of the corners, the very middle point of the painting is the conjurer’s cup. Our eye goes straight to it, even before seeing any of the figures. The conjurer on the right captures his rapt and entertains his audience with a game of cups and balls. The central character on the left is the man of rank in the forefront who leans in and has his eyes fixed on the pearl in the conjurer's hand while unaware of being relieved of his money purse. His focus is elsewhere, so his money is being stolen. Beasts are used in the painting to further symbolise human traits that allow for deception and victimisation. The little owl from the basket at the conjurer's waist signifies his intelligence. A frog which jumped out of the mouth of the central character represents the extent to which the victim let go of reason and gave in to animal impulses.
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