Sunday, February 21, 2016


Lord God of power and might,
nothing is good that is against your will,
and all is of value which comes from your hand.
Place in our hearts a desire to please you
and fill our minds with insight into love,
so that every thought may grow in wisdom

and all our efforts may be filled with your peace.
(Opening Prayer for Weekday Masses in the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time)

Sunday, February 07, 2016

MORE ON TINTORETTO’S PAINTING, Christ at the Sea of Galilee

The painting is sometimes captioned to suggest that it is about Jesus calming the storm and/or Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Gennesaret. But it cannot be only one of these, nor both at once, because they were separate events, and in both all the disciples were in the boat. Only with John’s gospel account as starting point, and allusions to the other two events incorporated by Tintoretto, can the painting make sense.

In John 21:1-8, we read that there were seven in the boat: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, “the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples”. Peter climbed out of the boat, half-clad, as soon as he realised that the man on the shore was Jesus. “The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.” In the painting, there are only seven men in the boat, and one is leaning over, appearing to grasp a barely visible net with sketchy fishes.

A number of thoughts arise. In the events that occurred before the Resurrection, Jesus acted as the master of Nature, which, of course, He is: He stilled the tempest with a word, and He walked over quite half the Sea of Gennesaret. On both occasions He admonished the disciples for their want of faith in Him. In the course of His Ministry, Jesus fed the multitude with bread and with fish proffered by the disciples.

In the event narrated by John, Jesus says nothing about having faith. He first suggests that the men cast their empty net to starboard, which they do without questioning, although very near the shore, and find they have netted a hundred and fifty-three large fish. Later He draws from Peter three declarations of love which wipe out the three denials (in Peter’s mind, not in the mind of Jesus, who doesn’t carry such memories in the way that humans do). In between, Jesus says to the disciples, “Come and have breakfast”, as if it were quite natural for Him, the Risen Lord, to procure the charcoal, the bread and the fish that they then see on the shore – the fish grilling on the fire, and the bread by the side. Two supernatural miracles from Jesus when He was in the flesh, and a homely miracle when He is in the mystery of His risen body! Now it is He who produces bread and fish, and He feeds the disciples.

What did Tintoretto have in mind when he painted this canvas? Was it purely Divine inspiration, the ideas channelled through his hand? We shall never know for certain. Artists in any medium are frequently prophets, even if they are not aware of a prophetic mission. It is enough for us to reflect on the three events that Tintoretto combined in a painting, which even merely as a painting is striking and memorable for its painterly qualities.

Saturday, February 06, 2016


This painting by Tintoretto is called Christ at the Sea of Galilee. One would think of some other episode in the Gospels, but this represents the passage from St John, post-Resurrection, when the apostles return empty-handed from overnight fishing. Tintoretto was a spiritual man, and this painting is a wonderful example of how his reflections on the life of Christ are expressed in design and paint.

Some things give the painting an unearthly quality: the green tinge, the lighting, the (typically Tintoretto) wire-like scribble which represents something, in this case the shore on which Christ stands. Beyond that is the calling on two other important encounters between Christ and the apostles, once when they were in a tempest-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee (Lk 8:22-25), once when he came to them, walking on the water (Mk 6:47-52), and merging these with the post-Resurrection meeting which was in the morning, with a calm sea. On one of those earlier occasions Christ had walked on the water – as He seems to do here – and when Peter asked to do the same, Christ held out His hand and responded, “Come”, as He seems to do here. Peter appears to be drawn by the power of that outstretched hand. And look at the waves and the clouds flung about by a wind that has bent the very mast; yet the leaves on the tree, balancing (on the right of the picture) the figure of Christ, do not stir, nor do Christ’s robes. In fact, while His hand is outstretched, His finger points in what seems to be an admonitory gesture, as if ordering the tumult to cease.

Over and above these aspects there is the extraordinary
link to Modern Art: those blocks of sea and sky suggest Braque and Picasso.

The only one who was directly influenced by this kind of painting from Tintoretto’s hand was El Greco, so much so that at one time he was believed to be the painter!

This painting does not idealise anything or anybody. It uses paint and design to give substance to thoughts in the painter’s mind which could not be expressed by him in any other way. And on the canvas these thoughts are given the ideal expression.