We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Nicodemus in Art – Lent 2

Nicodemus is connected with Lent 2, Year A. John 3:1-17

The readings in Lent 2 are all about signs and promises. Nicodemus was both a pharisee and a member of the Jewish Council Sanhedrin. It may have seemed that Nicodemus had everything–money, prominence, and power. However Nicodemus needed something else; he was a seeker of truth. He addresses Jesus as “Rabbi”, recognizing him as a new teacher of the Law.

Nicodemus was aware that Jesus had come from God because no one could do the signs/miracles that Jesus did if he weren’t from God and shows his significance. Unlike the other Pharisees who scoffed or plotted against Christ, Nicodemus went to meet with him defying social prejudice. It was at night so it could be secret . The night may be symbolic with Nicodemus cast in darkness, in ignorance, in unbelief.

Nicodemus discovered that eternal life was his for the receiving. Eternal life is not something attained on the other side of the grave. Eternal life is something lived in the continuous present of the here and now (eternally), living freely in the fullness of faith in God over and above all else.

The second time Nicodemus is mentioned (John 7: 50 -52) is when Nicodemus confronts and questions his fellow Pharisees about arresting Jesus without adequate proof that he had broken the Law. Nicodemus’ own journey was to give Jesus a chance.

The third time (John 19:39) he is noted in the Gospel of John as having assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial. We can surmise that Nicodemus has become a devoted follower of Jesus as he brings myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

Here are some of the artistic depictions of Nicodemus, mostly around the first appearance of Nicodemus in John 3:1-17:

1. “Head of a Bearded Man (Nicodemus)”, (1577–1660) Giacomo Cavedone The Metropolitan Museum of Art

He was a Italian Baroque painter of the Bolognese School. His career as a painter was cut short by a set of misfortunes; these included a 1623 fall from a church scaffold and, in 1630, the death of his wife and children from the plague. He lived until 1660, and died in poverty.

His principal works are the Adoration of the Magi, the Four Doctors, Last Supper; and his masterpiece, the large altar painting in the Pinacoteca di Bologna, Virgin and Child in Glory with San Petronio and Saint Alo (1614).

2. “Christ-instructing-Nicodemus” – Jacobo Jordaens (mid 17th century)

He was a Flemish painter, draughtsman and tapestry designer known for his history paintings, genre scenes and portraits. After Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, he was the leading Flemish Baroque painter of his day. Unlike those contemporaries he never traveled abroad to study Italian painting.

Like Rubens, Jordaens painted altarpieces, mythological, and allegorical scenes, and after 1640—the year Rubens died—he was the most important painter in Antwerp for large-scale commissions and the status of his patrons increased in general.

3. “Nicodemus Visiting Jesus by Night” – Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899)

Tanner was the first African American artist to attain a reputation abroad. Tanner’s renders Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop.

The setting is authentic. Tanner travelled to Palestine to study its landscape and ways in order to be true to it.

Tanner unites the prologue of John (‘what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’) with Nicodemus’ deep conversation andwith Jesus’ declaration ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12). It may well also allude to his death and burial. The large urn standing near Jesus could refer to his entombment as John says that Nicodemus brought a large portion of spices to anoint Jesus’ body.

4. “Interview between Jesus and Nicodemus” 1886 and 1894 – James Tissot

Tissot was a French painter and illustrator. He was a successful painter of Paris society before moving to London in 1871.

In about 1863, Tissot suddenly shifted his focus from the medieval style to the depiction of modern life through portraits. During this period, Tissot gained high critical acclaim, and quickly became a success as an artist. He quickly developed his reputation as a painter of elegantly dressed women shown in scenes of fashionable life.

In 1885, Tissot had a revival of his Catholic faith, which led him to spend the rest of his life making paintings about Biblical events. Many of his artist friends were skeptical about his conversion, as it conveniently coincided with the French Catholic revival, a reaction against the secular attitude of the French Third Republic. At a time when French artists were working in impressionism, pointillism, and heavy oil washes, Tissot was moving toward realism in his watercolors.

Widespread use of his illustrations in literature and slides continued after his death with “The Life of Christ and The Old Testament” becoming the “definitive Bible images.”

5. “Christ and Nicodemus” – Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn, (1604-1645)

He was a painter at the height of the Dutch golden age in painting.

6. “Christ and Nicodemus” – Fritz von Uhde (1886)

von Uhde (1845-1911) was a German mid-19th century painter. His style lay in-between Realism and Impressionism and was once known as “Germany’s outstanding impressionist”. A journey to the Netherlands brought about a change in his style, as he abandoned the dark chiaroscuro he had learned in Munich in favor of a colorism informed by the works of the French Impressionists.

7. “Visit of Nicodemus to Christ” – John La Farge (1880)

La Farge (1835-1910) was both a painter and a competitor to Louis Tiffany for stained glass windows in the late 19th century.

In the 1870s, La Farge began to paint murals, which became popular for public buildings as well as churches. His first mural was painted in Trinity Church, Boston, in 1873. Then followed his decorations in the Church of the Ascension (the large altarpiece) and St. Paul’s Chapel, New York.

In 1892, La Farge was brought on as an instructor with the Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools to provide vocational training to students in New York City.

La Farge experimented with problems of shifting and deteriorating color, especially in the medium of stained glass. His work rivaled the beauty of medieval windows and added new resources by his use of opalescent glass and by his original methods of layering and welding the glass.

Opalescent glass had been used for centuries in tableware, but it had never before been formed into flat sheets for use in stained-glass windows and other decorative objects. For his early experiments, La Farge had to custom-order flat sheets of opalescent glass from a Brooklyn glass manufacturer. La Farge apparently introduced his competitor Louis Tiffany to the new use of opalescent glass sometime in the mid 1870s, showing him his experiments.

Both came up with patents for opalescent glass. The major difference in their patents is that Tiffany lists somewhat different technical details, for instance relating to the air space between glass layers. La Farge’s patent focused more on the material and Tiffany’s more on its use in construction.

8. “Jesus and Modern Day Nicodemus – Richard Hook (1970’s?)

We used this image for our bulletin in 2020. Hook (1914-1975) married artist his wife Frances who was from Ambler, Pennsylvania. Richard must also have come from the same part of the country, since the couple met as students at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) in Philadelphia.

After their marriage, Richard found work in an advertising agency and provided illustrations for popular journals like Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. When the demand for original commercial art waned in the 1960s, the couple turned their attention to the growing inspirational art market. Hook met the need for a more masculine Jesus with his own rugged, sunburned (somewhat Semitic-looking).

9. “Born Again” – Lauren Wright Pittman

Comments by the Author “In reading this text, I felt the kind of dizzying brain space that I think Nicodemus is reeling in at this moment. Jesus lists metaphors that swirl around and fly over Nicodemus’ head, such as, “the wind blows where it chooses.” Jesus’ words create a halo of confusion around Nicodemus’ head. I imagine Nicodemus faced away from Jesus with his eyes closed, grappling for answers by playing the metaphors in his head like little vignettes on repeat. While Nicodemus spins in his searching, Jesus says simply, “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.” In Jesus’ perspective, his explanations to Nicodemus are as real and tangible as earthly things, but for Nicodemus, Jesus’ words seem so distant, so celestial. Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews; he has all of the knowledge of the law and of doctrine, but he doesn’t know Jesus. He’s not even really listening to Jesus. Jesus is right in front of his face. He can reach out and touch him. But they are light years away from one another. I wonder how things would shift for Nicodemus if he would just look at Jesus…”