This piece is entitled God the Father and was painted by a French artist about 350 years ago.
At this point, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute! No one knows what God looks like. How could He possibly be painted?” And these Bible verses confirm that you’re right:
- 1 John 4:12— “No one has ever seen God.”
- John 1:18— “No one has ever seen God.”
- 1 Timothy 6:15-16— “… the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see.”
- Even Moses did not see God face-to-face. Exodus 33:18-20— “Then Moses said, ‘Please let me see your glory!’ The Lord answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, ‘Lord,’ before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.”
So how do we have any ideas about what God looks like? Mostly, by prayerful discernment of Scripture and Tradition, and by that wonderful way great artists have of making something intangible into something visible. In religious art, an attribute (noun) is a big red-flag-clue to help us identify the subject of the work. It’s most commonly something that is held but can also be something worn, something in the background, a particular color used, or a number of other meaningful hints.
In the case of God the Father, what do we know about Him? He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and can do anything and be everywhere. He’s creator, king, and judge. Jesus reveals Him to be a loving father “who art in heaven.”
So what do artists do with that? In this month’s piece, God is shown as an old man as a way to describe that He is ancient/timeless and wise, dressed in a regal color to show his sovereignty, and strong to show His unlimited power. He’s holding the Earth in His hand to highlight His role as creator, and the angels are worshipping Him. (Although I’m not sure what’s going on with those two who are sharing His cloud.J) And an angel on the right has incense – an ancient way to honor sacred persons and things.
If that’s not obvious enough, the banner on the right reads Gloria in Excelsis Deo. (Glory to God in the Highest!)
Pieces like this are a great example of why knowing how to “read” religious art can go a long way in teaching us the truths of the Faith and can lead us to a deeper personal faith.
Image link and credit: Web Gallery of Art