Sad, sad Jeremiah!

After reading the story of Jeremiah from this week’s lesson you may want to use these pieces of art to do a little review.

The first one, from Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel ceiling, pictures the prophet just after receiving a vision about the future of Israel.

And this one by Rembrandt you can see him again so very sorrowful.

Your review question is this:  Knowing what you do about Jeremiah’s story, why do you think artists paint one of God’s greatest servants as such a sorrowful man?


Thanks, as always, to the Web Gallery of Art for making high quality images available to everyone!  Their captions on these works are as follows:

On the Michelangelo – “The melancholy, abstracted Jeremiah, more than any other figure, is a deeply moving moral self portrait. Sorrowful unto death, he rests from his spiritual vision, to reflect on the hardship and frustration of earthly existence. We share the artist’s pity for this noble being, prematurely aged and steeped in the anguish of the universe who, alone among the Prophets, must carry the weight of earthly existence. His hand grasps his beard with a saturnine gesture that seems to be second nature to him.” and “Deep in sorrowful meditation and oppressed by the terrible anguish of his ominous predictions, Jeremiah leans forward, resting his bowed head on his hand and his elbows on his spread knees. The expression of the attendant on the left is also woeful, while the one on the right was repainted in the past, together with part of the prophet’s hair, following serious damage caused by seepage of water.”


On the Rembrandt – “This well-preserved painting is one of the finest works of Rembrandt’s Leiden period. For many years it was incorrectly identified but it certainly shows Jeremiah; who had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, capital of Judah, by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah, chapters 32, 33), lamenting over the destruction of the city. In the distance on the left a man at the top of the steps holds clenched fists to his eyes: this is the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, who was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar. The prominent domed building in the background is probably Solomon’s Temple.

Jeremiah’s pose, his head supported by his hand, is a traditional attitude of melancholy: his elbow rests on a large book which is inscribed ‘Bibel’ on the edge of the pages, probably a much later addition to the painting. The book is presumably meant to be his own Book of Jeremiah or the Book of Lamentations. The lighting of the figure is particularly effective with the foreground and the right side of the prophet’s face in shadow and his robe outlined against the rock. Rembrandt has used the blunt end of his brush to scratch details of the foliage, Jeremiah’s beard and the fastenings of his tunic in the wet paint, a characteristic technique of his early years.”

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