Christ knew Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, who sent for him when Lazarus became sick. He didn‘t go at once: Lazarus lived in Bethany, where Christ had been stoned for his radical preaching and his disciples were reluctant for him to return. On hearing that Lazarus was dead they set off, arriving to find that he had died four days before. In spite of objections, Christ ordered the stone to be rolled away from the grave, gave a blessing, and Lazarus was revived.
The raising of Lazarus, told in the Gospel of John, is thought to prefigure Christ’s death and the Resurrection. Here, Simon de Vos has put a seventeenth-century interpretation on the story, using contemporary clothing for the women while the men are in versions of imagined ’biblical dress'. Instead of a stone in front of a cave, de Vos has shown a spade beside a pit and, in the background, the monumental upheaval of the stonework of a classical tomb.
Christ knew and loved Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, who sent for him when Lazarus became ill. He was concerned, but didn‘t go at once: Lazarus lived in Bethany where, the day before, Christ had been stoned for his radical preaching. His disciples were reluctant for him to return. But on hearing that Lazarus was dead, they set off for Bethany, where Martha, Mary and the family were mourning. The young man had died four days before and, in spite of objections, Christ ordered the stone to be rolled away from the grave and gave a blessing. Lazarus was revived.
With its story of death and resurrection, the raising of Lazarus told in the Gospel of John (John 11: 1–44) is thought to prefigure Christ’s death and the Resurrection. Here, Simon de Vos has made sure that the comparison is clear, although he gives the story a seventeenth-century interpretation. He has used contemporary clothing for the women, and the men wear an imagined version of ’biblical dress' accepted at the time. Instead of a stone in front of a cave as a grave, de Vos has shown a spade beside a pit and, in the background, the monumental upheaval of the stonework of a classical tomb, with the roots of trees entangled and pulled out wholesale.
Deathly pale, his hands tied as Christ’s were to be when arrested, Lazarus looks up at the hand giving him the blessing. One sister kneels beside him, pulling back the grave clothes. The other kneels beside Christ, smiling, hands folded in prayer. Lazarus’s family look on the miracle in awe. A blue-robed Pharisee points a finger at the figure of Christ, whose head and arm are outlined against the grey sky in celestial light.
Behind Christ, the story takes a different turn. The disciples watch with reverence – except for one. A pair of mocking eyes under a mop of dark curls, peer over the backs of the crowd and look straight at us: Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Christ, and possibly a self portrait of Simon de Vos. In front of him a Pharisee peers through thick lenses; these, and his crouched, secretive pose suggest he is one of the Pharisees that spied on Christ’s activities and demanded his arrest and crucifixion. Both the Pharisees have esoteric letters inscribed on the gold edging of their robes, but these are too indistinct to be accurately interpreted.
For many years, the authorship of the painting was in doubt, but it’s now generally accepted that the work is by Simon de Vos. De Vos was an admirer of Rubens and the painting of Mary and Martha’s gowns certainly resembles Rubens’s delicate painting of fabric. Both artists used the expensive lapis-lazuli-based pigment ultramarine, but in de Vos’s picture this is painted over indigo, a newly discovered but much cheaper pigment that a successful artist like Rubens would be less likely to use.
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