“In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the things I love most about standing before a painting is that the longer you look at the scene, the more quiet details you notice.

In any story, imagining yourself there invites stillness and reflection. It invites empathy as you practice putting yourself in the heart of another.

This year for Holy Week, we came across an old master whose art is new to us: James Tissot. Tissot had spent much of his career depicting fashionable scenes of London and Paris, but in his later years, his focus returned to the deep Catholic roots of his upbringing, creating 365 gouache paintings of the life of Jesus Christ.

As we pored over the collection, we were deeply touched by the intricacy and empathy in his scenes. It feels as if Tissot had pondered a lot on what those in the Savior's inner social circles would have seen, heard, and felt as they walked with him through the many experiences described in the New Testament. Considering the words of Emerson above, Tissot must have lifted his heart to the highest imaginations of the story of Jesus Christ to have so artfully conceived his story as paintings.

With Holy Week approaching, we wanted to share these images with you. Of the 365 paintings, we have selected six to print this season. Each is a quiet moment from the story of Jesus Christ. We hope they offer a fresh lens with which to imagine yourself in the age-old story of Jesus Christ.

He Went Through the Villages on the Way to Jerusalem

"And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem." (Luke 13:22)

Elsewhere, the Gospels say great multitudes followed him and he healed them all. I wonder what it would have felt like for the people in Jerusalem at the time, to have heard of a man who healed. I wonder what I would have thought the first time I crossed his path. To take all the rumors and try to wrap my mind around them, to decide what I believed for myself about this Man from Galileecould he really heal people? Had he really walked on water? And what about that story I'd been hearing about him using a few pieces of bread to feed thousands of people? It all would have taken much quiet reflection. I wonder, would I have waited on the roads nearby, hoping to be healed and helped?

With Passover Approaching Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem

"And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem..." (John 2:13) "And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?" (Matthew 20:10)

This scene depicts moments just before the Last Supper, when Jesus and his disciples were en route to Jerusalem, where they would search out a place to hold their passover rituals. I wonder what thoughts and feelings were stirring in his disciples. I wonder if they had any kind of foreboding that his death was so near. I imagine there would have been a feeling of security and camaraderie in going together, all thirteen of them, to hold their sacred meal together.

Christ Appears on the Shore of Lake Tiberias

"After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias... When the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. ... When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, and did cast himself into the sea." (John 21:1, 4, 7)

This is one of my favorite scenes Tissot depicts. It as after Jesus's death and resurrection. His disciples, I suppose not knowing what else to do now that their leader was gone, return to what they were doing before he came: fishing. They'd been fishing all night and had caught nothing. The resurrected Jesus goes to the Sea where they are to find them. I wonder how long he waited on the shore, perhaps many long hours, for the disciples’ boats to come close enough that they could see and hear him. I imagine there was a quiet pause on the ship as one by one they realized it was the Savior, this person they loved so dearly. When they recognize it is Jesus, Peter throws himself into the sea to swim to him. I try to imagine the kind of love and excitement Peter must have been feeling to see his friend, that he just couldn't wait for the boat to row him into shore.

We are astounded how often artists have returned to depicting the story of Jesus Christ. Whatever belief system you hold, so much insight comes from not just reading the stories within that tradition, but truly envisioning there, the way an artist would to be able to depict such narrative details. We hope that however you enjoy this coming week, you find quiet moments of reflection to imagine yourself in the stories you cherish most.

Browse all Tissot art here and other portraits of the Savior here.

March 25, 2021 — Carolyn Carter


Monica said:

Beautiful words. Beautiful art. Thank-you!

Donna Barton said:

Thank you for sharing these portraits of Jesus and the insights into them. Very touching all the time but especially during Holy Week!

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