The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,
Painting by Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti, 1518/19–1594),
Painted circa 1545–50,
Oil on canvas
© Metropolitan Museum, New York
The feeding of the five thousand
When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.
When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they answered ‘All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.’ ‘Bring them here to me’ he said. He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining; twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.
Reflection on the large painting
Today’s Gospel reading, the miracle of the five loaves and the two fish, is the only miracle that is reported by all four gospels, because the link to the Eucharist is obvious. The words used towards the end of this miracle describe what Jesus did with the bread and is repeated at every mass: …'He took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples’… The Eucharist has the same elements which are part of this miracle: the community of people gathered around Jesus; the transformation of humble elements into a sign of God’s abundant gifts; the trust the audience had in Jesus to be fed, etc… and those who trusted got more than they needed!
Jesus did not produce the food out of nowhere. He takes the little that we give him, uses it, multiplies it and creates an abundance of gifts. What we give to Our Lord, He transforms it into something overwhelmingly more.
A crowd gathers around Jesus in our painting by Jacopo Tintoretto. Its broad, horizontal composition is typical of Venetian paintings designed to decorate the lateral wall of a chapel, confraternity hall, or a long, central hall (called the portego) of a palace. The painting is over 4 metres wide. Tintoretto collaborated with assistants to produce these vast works. One of Venice’s greatest painters,Tintoretto often infused his imagery with a bit of a frivolous, festive atmosphere typical of the city. The multitude is depicted not as a group of the humble early followers of Christ but rather as an assortment of well-dressed people. The scene resembles more a courtly picnic than a New Testament parable. It is almost a depiction of the anticipation of that great heavenly banquet when we shall experience God’s hospitality to the full.
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