Saint John the Baptist
Dipinto da El Greco (1541-1614),
Painted between 1597-1607,
Olio su tela
© Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

Saint John the Baptist
Dipinto da El Greco (1541-1614),
Painted between 1597-1607,
Olio su tela
© Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

Gospel of 5 Dicembre 2021

La chiamata di Giovanni Battista

Luca 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

Una voce grida nel deserto:

Prepare a way for the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley will be filled in,

every mountain and hill be laid low,

winding ways will be straightened

and rough roads made smooth.

And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

Riflessione sulla pittura

I saw today’s painting by El Greco once, back in 1992. Whilst the painting is intriguing and strangely captivating, I am still not sure whether or not I like it. Yes, 28 years have passed since I saw it. In general it is fair to say that our taste evolves over time. Especially as art is challenging and pushes boundaries, one’s taste in art moves along and develops. In its most basic form, taste simply means preference. It is not something we can develop as simply as say working on our physical shape: by doing more exercise, we develop more muscles. In art we can look at 100 paintings and still not understand what we look at. Or so we think. Just like our faith journeys, walking with art is highly individual and unique to each person and sometimes we may feel that our progress in understanding art a little bit better is very slow .

That said, taste in art cannot be too individualistic either. Taste should sit somewhere between public opinion (or the opinion of the experts) and our unique individual response to a work of art. If we merely follow the masses, we miss so much depth about the artworks we are looking at; if we are too individualistic, then again we would miss out on engaging properly with the artworks. Art communicates and thus it is about challenge and response; about listening to others and personally reflecting on what we see.

Anyway, I digress. On this Second Sunday of Advent, we celebrate the call of St John the Baptist, the one preparing the way for Jesus. Why do we reflect on the role of St John the Baptist early on in Advent? John is the last of the old covenant prophets. He is the bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. He is the hinge between the old and the new. As Advent means ‘coming’, the Church wants us not just to reflect on the First coming of Jesus in Bethlehem, but also think of His Second Coming. St John reminds us to get our spiritual lives tuned up so that we’re ready when Jesus comes again.

As for our painting by El Greco, we see a thin St John the Baptist, dressed in animal skins, holding a long staff with a cross-shaped top. Another smaller cross is beside the lamb on a rock, representing the Agnus Dei. The clouds around his head offer a gentle halo. In the distance we see the  monastery of El Escorial. Forsaking the more traditional Renaissance image of John as a desirable figure of masculine beauty, El Greco paints St John as an elongated, slightly odd figure near starvation, accentuating the sacrifice he made for us all…

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6 months ago

Lovely El Greco

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Domenica Gaudete. Rallegratevi!

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