Man is ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful because, as the Catholic Church teaches, in such things we encounter God. Today, we encounter “The First Mourning” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
For a reflection about this painting from my good friend, Patrick van der Vorst at Christian Art, please enjoy below.
Peace be with you!
From the author, My Daily Bread: A Reason2bCatholic blog
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….”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2513
The first mourning
Reflection on the Painting
by Patrick van der Vorst
Our Gospel reading today where Jesus says ‘You must not kill’ and talks about brothers being angry, reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel. The first person to kill his brother was Cain.
Sin doesn’t just happen… it first grows as a seed in one’s heart. Annoyance, can lead to bad feelings, then lead to anger, to hate and then eventually killing in extreme cases. So Jesus tells us that the seed of sin needs to be tackled at its very initial stages.
As regards to choosing a painting of Cain and Abel, I have always liked this canvas by Bouguereau, painted in 1888. It is called ‘The First Mourning’. The title itself gives everything away. We see Adam and Eve who are just after discovering the body of their son, Abel. The grief is immense. The parents’ worst fear has happened, losing a child. Adam’s left hand is holding his heart, his chest, almost wanting to protect himself from the immense grief. His other arm is comforting Eve. Barefooted, she is beyond being comforted. We can barely see their faces. The intimacy of the grief is shared between them. The whole composition is inspired by pieta scenes throughout art history. Abel is lifeless, placed floating above a puddle of blood. Behind them is a dark landscape with a building on fire.
Anger caused this horrendous scene in our painting. Reconciliation is what Jesus is asking from us… humility to ask forgiveness of anyone we may have upset.
Credit: Patrick van der Vorst, Gospel Reading for Today, Christian Art, "You Must Not Kill," February 26, 2021; https://www.christian.art/todays-reading.php Information herein posted under the "rules of fair use" to foster education and discussion in accordance with Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976.
For today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 5:20-26, this Friday of the First Week of Lent, visit https://bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading.
Truth, Beauty, and Sacred Art
from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 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.”
Saint Paul, Letter to the Philippians (4:8)
St. Paul, Apostle, Martyr, 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.