Painting of the Month
Wtewael, ‘The Raising of Lazarus’, c. 1605-1610
According to the New Testament (John 11), Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus visited his grave and miraculously brought him back to life.
The drama of Lazarus's resurrection offered Wtewael the opportunity to represent excited figures in contorted poses, employing dynamic hand gestures, resulting in a highly compelling image
The composition is ingeniously organised and balanced. Framing the composition at left and right are two male figures in green robes, both in twisted poses; the one on the left is shown from the back and the one on the right from the front.
They are mirrored by two women, where again, one is shown from the front (next to Lazarus), and the other from the back, reaching out to him. They are probably Mary and Martha of Bethany, Lazarus’s sisters who had brought Jesus to him.
By using this framing device, Wtewael draws our attention to the action at the centre of the scene; Jesus is fittingly positioned in the centre, in red and purple robes, reaching out to Lazarus below as he climbs from the grave.
The painting was recently restored at the National Gallery and many intriguing discoveries were made. The composition must have been highly successful since it appears to have served as a model for several copies made by Wtewael and his studio.
After the copies were completed, Wtewael seems to have returned to this picture and made a number of changes, possibly in order to distinguish his original from the copies. For example, he enlarged the size of the basket in the foreground and altered the colours of some of the garments for aesthetic effect.