Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Art Collection Illustrates Bible As History

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 26, 2009

An art exhibit at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum examines how the Bible became a weapon in a propaganda war as political and religious changes swept through 16th-century Europe. The Protestants with their new faith challenged the authority of the Catholic Church, and each claimed authority with biblical tracts.

The exhibit “Scripture for the Eyes: Bible Illustration in Netherlandish Prints of the Sixteenth Century” shows how printmaking reinforced beliefs during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

Cornelis Anthoniszoon’s Catholic-friendly “Deathbed of the Righteous and Unrighteous Man” features three stories. The first portrays a man being jerked to Hell by a winged demon, while women of faith, hope and charity surround the righteous man. Above the scene, Christ sits in judgment surrounded by representations of six acts of mercy: care for the sick, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry and the thirsty. And in the background, a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Lutherans would have identified with Pieter Nagel’s “Allegory of Law and Grace.” In this 1567 print, an Everyman sits on a tomb, wringing his hands. His nearly naked body is turned to his right toward Moses with the Exodus and the Ten Commandments, but his face looks at John the Baptist, who points his hand at Jesus hanging on the cross. Beyond the scene is a divided tree, on the “old” side it is dying and on the other half, on the “new” side, it blooms.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum is hosting this exhibit until Jan. 24, 2010. Also a show of the Museum of Biblical Art, “Scripture for the Eyes” highlights elegant engravings and woodblock prints that were used for prayerful reflection and to gain greater understanding of the Bible as history.

The exhibit is a collection of nearly 80 engravings and simple prints by leading Dutch and Flemish craftsmen. Illustrations are on loan from 13 museums.

The curators are Walter Melion, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Art History at Emory University, and James Clifton, director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation.

“I hope people will get some sense of how people experienced Scripture through images, reading the Bible through exemplary pictures,” said Melion.

The printers “assemble scriptural passages in innovative ways” that encourage people to read and think deeply about biblical passages, he said.

Some of the images were part of a printed Bible, meant to highlight certain texts, and other were prints of single pieces of paper. Melion said the prints had many uses, from guides to interpreting Scripture and allowing for unmediated access to the word of God to moral examples to guide one’s life and confessional statements for religious identity.

Among the prints are works by the foremost artists of their time. Lucas van Leyden’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” is a highlight. Dating to around 1510, the engraving shows the rag-clad son kneeling before the richly dressed father. A herd of swine is part of the background and another scene shows a servant killing the calves for the upcoming feast.

The exhibition is organized by the function of the prints, from sacred history and geography to morality and politics.

Jesus has a role in many of the prints. In one he is seen bestowing power on the Spanish Catholic king and a pope. Another is “Christ in the Wine Press” done in 1619 by Hieronymus Wierix. It shows Jesus bleeding as God the Father operates the press with the cross.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, 12 noon-4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students, seniors and children ages 6-17. The museum is located on the campus at 571 South Kilgo Circle, Atlanta.

For more information, call (404) 727-4282 or visit the Web site at