Today's Gospel in Art - The Ascension of Our Lord

  • Patrick van der Vorst

Ascension, by John Singleton Copley 1775 © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ascension, by John Singleton Copley 1775 © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gospel of 21st May 2020 - Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.'

Reflection on the Painting

American born artist John Singleton Copley spent six months in Rome, where he was inspired by the works of the great Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520) in order to paint his composition. He based this composition mainly on Raphael's 'Transfiguration' which is at the Vatican. He spent all six months searching for the ideal composition. I also show you a drawing which is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, showing the artist working at his composition. As with any neo-classical painting, it has a a very distinct clarity of composition. Christ is in the top two thirds of the painting and the disciples in the lower third. Today's Gospel reading says 'When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated'. We see this depicted: the hesitation shown by the disciples to the right of the canvas where the angels have to explain what is going on; a figure kneeling, overcome by the emotion of the events; other disciples throwing their hands in the air in praise; surprise; adoration; joy… it is all there in this painting.

Whilst there is so much going on in our short reading, the essence of this feast day is that Jesus is still with us because of His promise, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." He is with us at all times and in all places. This sentence is the core of our faith.

If I may, I will draw an analogy, which is of course is slightly flawed, but nevertheless it is an anecdote which I would like to share with you, as yesterday we discussed Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci had started working on a large painting in his studio. He worked on the picture for a while, outlining its composition, colours, detailing etc. One day, he stopped working on the painting and asked one of his students to complete the work. The anxious student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which Leonardo, his master, had begun. Da Vinci summoned him and silenced him: 'Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?' Today Jesus is asking us and instructing us to help Him finish His picture… and He will be with us… always…


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