Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Too late for Rembrandt

Yesterday I went down to London to catch Rembrandt the late works at The National Gallery before it closes in one week's time. Alas when I got there I was told that there were no more tickets for the day. Having got there I decided to take a look at a picture I had seen before.

This painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder has long been a favourite. Although the Christ figure has a rather unattractive adult look,  the picture is so suggestive. The idea of wealthy powerful men kneeling before this child who himself was born to be King is a powerful one. Although the picture is called the Adoration of the Kings, it's recognised that Scripture calls them magi or 'wise men' from the east, nonetheless, kings bowing before the king (although apparently a helpless babe) is appropriate. However,

The Adoration of the Kings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
'The particular gift that the Christ child is being offered emphasises his humanity; it is a vessel of golden-red grains of myrrh, which alludes to his future death and burial. The child recoils from the gift, a gesture which the artist may have intended to foreshadow Christ's moment of anguish  before he passion when  he pleaded in the Garden of Gethsemane that his father should 'take away this cup' (Mark 14.36)...the soldiers pre-figure those who tormented and nailed him to the cross; at least two of the pikes are cross-shaped...It becomes clear, then that Christ is being shown not as a Godly infant, but as a vulnerable human being who experiences as much anxiety, fear and pain as the rest of humanity. This representation of the Saviour encourages the viewer to mediate on the humility of the incarnation.' Taken from The image of Christ

Westminster Abbey yesterday
After the National gallery on a wet blowy January evening I went along to Westminster Abbey for the 5 o'clock evensong. It was a very formal affair which was a strange mix of beautiful music and ceremony. Nonetheless what struck me was the anthem taken from Psalm 71 by William Byrd, Reges Tharsis. Sung in Latin the translation is,


The kings of Tharsis and the isle offer their gifts,the kings of Arabia and Sheba bring gifts (to the Lord God.) And all the kings of the earth worship him, all peoples bow before him. (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.)


Reflecting upon this Christ, now no longer a helpless babe,  to whom one day every knee shall bow, including all the kings of the earth, made me think again both upon the immensity of the incarnation, and the joy and great hope that one day 'everything sad will come untrue', when our true King will be seen and known for who he is. No wonder Handel got carried away with his fabulous piece from The Messiah, ...'and he shall reign for ever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords’. Just now we must wait for that day, with the mixture of joy and sorrow that comes to us all. And yet with  expectation in our hearts that one day, one day…everything will be fixed, all wrongs will be righted, and death will be no more.
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