The fine arts, but above all sacred art, “of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands…” (CCC 2513).
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee
REMBRANDT VAN RIJN – CHRIST IN THE STORM ON THE SEA OF GALILEE, 1633
Word of God from the Gospel of Mark 4:37-41
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. [The disciples] woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Reflection on the Painting
The biblical scene pitches nature against human frailty – both physical and spiritual. The panic-stricken disciples struggle against a sudden storm, and fight to regain control of their fishing boat as a huge wave crashes over its bow, ripping the sail and drawing the craft perilously close to the rocks in the left foreground. One of the disciples succumbs to the sea’s violence by vomiting over the side. Amidst this chaos, only Christ, at the right, remains calm, like the eye of the storm. Awakened by the disciples’ desperate pleas for help, he rebukes them: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” and then rises to calm the fury of wind and waves. Nature’s upheaval is both cause and metaphor for the terror that grips the disciples, magnifying the emotional turbulence and thus the image’s dramatic impact.
The painting showcases the young Rembrandt’s ability not only to represent a sacred history, but also to seize our attention and immerse us in an unfolding pictorial drama. For greatest immediacy, he depicted the event as if it were a contemporary scene of a fishing boat menaced by a storm. The spectacle of darkness and light formed by the churning seas and blackening sky immediately attracts our attention. We then become caught up in the disciples’ terrified responses, each meticulously characterized to encourage and sustain prolonged, empathetic looking. Only one figure looks directly out at us as he steadies himself by grasping a rope and holds onto his cap. His face seems familiar from Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and as his gaze fixes on ours we recognize that we have become imaginative participants in the painter’s vivid dramatization of a disaster Christ is about to avert.
Source: An excerpt from Michael Zell, “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 145.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Truth Beauty, and Sacred Art (2501)
Created “in the image of God,” man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man (CCC 2501).
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
– St. Paul, Letter to the Philippians (4:8)
St. Peter, Rock of the Church (Mt 16:18-19), pray for us.
Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always. Holy Family pray for us. Amen.