This large painting tells the dramatic New Testament story of Saint Paul at the moment of his conversion to Christianity. He had persecuted Christians in Jerusalem but was struck down on the road to Damascus by a vision of Christ, who asked him why. Paul was blinded, and Christ sent a man to restore his sight. He was then baptised and set out to preach Christ’s word.
Dujardin has captured the moment of terror when the skies split open and heaven was revealed. Paul’s horse rolls to the ground, taking him with it. Although the tumultuous grey clouds billow and the skies behind are a threatening yellow colour, Dujardin represents heaven with a chubby little cherub. He brandishes a torch of fire but also an olive branch, a symbol of peace – softening the message that has panicked the people below.
This large painting tells the dramatic New Testament story of Saint Paul at the moment of his conversion to Christianity. The saint, originally called Saul, had persecuted the Jewish people in Jerusalem who followed the ‘New Way’, as early Christianity was known.
On the road to Damascus Saul was struck down by a vision of Christ, who spoke to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?... I am Jesus. Rise and enter the city. There you will be told what to do.’ When Saul stood, he was blind; he was taken by the hand into the city, where he waited. After three days a man came to him, touched his face, and told him that he‘d been sent by Christ to fill Saul with the Holy Ghost. Saul’s sight was restored, he was baptised with the name Paul and he started to preach the Christian message.
Dujardin has captured the moment of terror when the skies split open and heaven was revealed. The flying cloaks – like great birds – of two of the soldiers with him give the impression of a great wind carrying Christ’s voice down to Saul. Saul’s horse rolls to the ground, taking him with it. Other horses plunge and rear; a beggar in a loincloth tumbles, almost falling under their hooves. Although the tumultuous grey clouds billow and the skies behind are a threatening yellow colour, Dujardin represents heaven with a chubby little cherub. He brandishes a torch of fire, but also an olive branch, symbol of peace – softening the message that has panicked the people below.
The drama of the scene is heightened by the flashes of light that catch the tangle of limbs, the metal of helmets, Saul’s white turban and his horse’s shining, dappled rump, and the ashen face of the beggar. The composition was clearly inspired by a sixteenth-century print by Antonio Tempesta, which Dujardin must have known. It shows the chaos of the moment with terrified horses, flying cloaks and weapons and a single beam of light from heaven.
Dujardin was more famous for portrayals of the Italian countryside, like A Woman with Cattle and Sheep in an Italian Landscape, than for religious works. In the Netherlands religious paintings weren’t shown in the interiors of the austere, whitewashed Calvinist churches, so the picture may have been commissioned by a wealthy, devout private patron for a domestic setting. This painting of a crucial moment in Christian history is considered one of his masterpieces.
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