Biblical Art

For my very first post, I wanted to share excerpts from two books that eloquently express why Biblical Art can enhance our understanding and appreciation of the Bible.

From The Teachers’ and Students’ Encyclopedia by Patrick Fairbairn:

Special care and attention have been given to the preparation of the illustrations, of which about seven hundred enrich and elucidate the text, while numerous full page engravings give added interest to the work.  These include places where great events occurred, and where great men of the Bible lived, and also plants and animals, cities, seas and mountains, portraits, historical scenes, etc.  There are illustrations portraying the manners and customs of social life, and showing the manifold productions of human skill and handicraft.  A special feature is the introduction of illustrations of the antiquities of Egypt, Babylonia, and Phoenicia, from the marvelous discoveries of recent times.  Bible readers will thus find the sacred writings acquiring fresh force, significance, and value, by comparison and contrast with the literary remains and monumental records of the great empires and peoples which so powerfully affected the fortunes of Israel.  Many of the illustrations are from photographs of historical localities as they appear to-day, or of important actors in those life dramas, as they are painted by the great masters, or with the labors of the Apostles.  These illustrations have a high educational value and they will prove helpful to the scholar as well as the ordinary reader.  Mr. Ruskin says that “Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art.  Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others.”

Source: Fairbairn, Patrick. The Teachers’ and Students’ Bible Encyclopedia. Toledo, OH, 1902

From The Pictorial Bible Commentator by Rev. Daniel March:

The engravings and illustrations scattered so abundantly through this book greatly increase its value. To young and old they teach more vividly and impressively than words. No verbal description, however accurate and minute, can be worth anything like as much to the reader as the plainest picture of the thing described. One glance at the rudest outline of Jerusalem will fix its form and situation more deeply in the memory than a whole volume of verbal description.

It would be too much to expect that every one of the four hundred and fifty illustrations found in this book should be drawn and engraved in the highest style of art, or that none should fail to give a true impression of the places and the people, the customs and modes of living in the Bible lands. And yet in all this large number very few will fail to carry back the reader to the times of old, and to make him better acquainted with the men who lived when angels came and sat in the shade of oaks at the shepherd’s tent-door, and the word of the Lord was given by miracle and vision and prophecy.

The original works of the Italian, and Flemish, and Spanish schools of art are very wonderful in coloring and in composition, but they are seldom true to the Bible story; they give very imperfect views of people and customs in the Bible times. The Bible student will find more in the pictures which form a part of this Commentary, to help him understand the Scriptures, than he would in all the works of Raphael and Rubens, of Michael Angelo and Murillo.

These illustrations take the reader out into the pasture-grounds of the patriarchs and show him the sheep and the goats, the flock and the fold, the well and the fountain, just as Isaac and Jacob saw them at Beersheba and Bethel and Shechem. He wanders with the great household over hill and plain in the glow of the morning and rests in the hot noon under the shadow of the shepherd’s tent. He goes down into Egypt, sees the brick-making and the brute-worship in the house of bondage, and then joins the great emigration under Moses. He beholds the tents of the tribes and the tabernacle of the congregation in the long wandering of the wilderness. He comes with the conquering host into the land of promise, and surveys its mountains, and hills, and valleys, its cities and places and strongholds. As he goes on with the sacred history, his eye becomes familiar with all the occupations and all the aspects of human life in the Holy Land.  He sees the sower scattering seed and the birds of the air following to devour it up. He sees the gleaners following the reapers and the harvesters binding the sheaves, purging the threshing-floor and storing the wheat in the garner. He goes out with the husbandman in the morning to see the laborers in the field, and he sits by the village fountain when the women come at evening to bring water. He visits the vineyard when the vintagers are treading out the grapes; he walks by the seaside, when the fishermen are casting their nets; he looks up to the hills at sunrise and sees the shepherd seeking pasturage and the flock following his steps whithersoever he goeth. He sits in the city gate and sees the conqueror coming home from distant war, and captive kings chained and following in his train. He stands as  a spectator in the banqueting-hall when meats steam, and flowers blossom, and wine runs redder than blood, and he walks around outside the city wall, where mourners rend their garments and sit in sackcloth and ashes.

All these things, and a thousand others, are set before the eye of the reader in pictorial illustration, and so he receives a far more definite and lasting impression of Bible times, lands, and people, than could ever be given by verbal description alone. The sacred record becomes to him a living book, and its spiritual truths are so bound up in earthly and material forms that he can grasp their meaning and carry it with him through all the journey of life. The great lessons of courage and constancy, and faith, and love, are set before him in such a companionable and every-day dress, that he is insensibly drawn into sympathy with saints, and heroes, apostles, and martyrs. He makes them the companions of his best hours, and he learns to imitate the best things in their lives. The holy men of old walk with the men of the living age, and the blessing of the fathers descends to the children from generation to generation.

The style and the whole execution of the work are well fitted to secure so great and good a result. The entrance of the book into the house and the careful study of its sacred lessons will begin a new era of light and instruction for the household.

by Rev. Daniel March

Source: Cobbin, Ingram. The Pictorial Bible Commentator. Philadelphia: Historical Publishing Company, 1887.

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