Transfiguration of Jesus,
Painting by Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890),
Painted in 1872,
Oil on canvas
© Frederiksborg Palace, Hillerød, Denmark
His face shone like the sun, his clothes as white as the light
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’
Reflection on the painting
Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch was born in 1834 in Copenhagen. Whilst his father wanted his son to be an officer in the Navy, a respectable profession, Heinrich kept pursuing a career in the arts. He received a huge commission from the Danish maecenas (generous benefactor) of the time, brewer J. C. Jacobsen (founder of Carlsberg beer), to paint 23 scenes of the life of Christ. Bloch worked on these paintings for over fourteen years, and they became one of the greatest artistic interpretations of the life and death of Christ in the 19th century.
In our painting we see the apostles Peter, James and John being blinded by the strong light of Christ's Transfiguration. Bloch masterfully conveys the burst of light surrounding Jesus and outlining the figures of Moses and Elijah. He painted the apostles in full colour and movement. The artist seems to have been more interested in rendering their emotions and reaction to the events, rather than detailing further what went on up the mountain. He thus prompts us to reflect on our own reaction to these events and to today’s Gospel reading.
All three Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) place the Transfiguration immediately after Peter’s confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus then starts to talk about his betrayal and death. They seem to want us to hold these two truths together: that the Son of Man is one who is humble and obedient even to death… in his full divinity and full humanity.
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