“Rembrandt is in the Wind” by Russ Ramsey

An illustration of the 4th century church father Athanasius of Alexandria came to mind when I read Russ Ramsey’s book. Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith. In his On the Incarnation, Athanasius compares the image of God in fallen humans to a portrait that has been “erased by stains from without”. He explains that because of the damage that sin has inflicted on humanity, God’s supreme work of art, the second person of the Trinity had to become a man to restore in us his likeness. The Word, who is the image of the invisible God, came to earth to sit down again so that his “portrait might be renewed” (On the Incarnation, ch. 14).

But God didn’t start out with a blank canvas when it came to redemption. He loved his image in humanity too much to dismiss us and start from scratch. As Athanase says, “For the sake of the picture, even the simple wood on which it is painted is not discarded, but the outline is renewed on it.” Fallen humans are damaged masterpieces, still displaying our Creator’s likeness from certain angles and in the right light. Although we are ragged and stained with sin, selfishness and mortality, we still look like him. And that resemblance emerges whenever we stand for truth, seek good, or create and celebrate beauty.

Ramsey, an art lover and pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, believes that beauty in particular has the power “to awaken our senses to the world as God created it and to awaken our senses to God himself” (14). That believers and unbelievers alike are able to produce beauty means that God works through otherwise unqualified image bearers to “reveal his glory” – even in the midst of their misfortunes, moral failures and of their mental struggles. And if there is one place where you can easily find this type of rupture, it is in the history of art and in the lives of those who create it.

Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith

Russ Ramsay

Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith

Russ Ramsay

Zondevan. 272 pages.

The book is part art history, part Bible study, part philosophy, and part analysis of human experience; but everything is history. The lives of the artists in this book illustrate the struggle to live in this world and highlight the beauty of the redemption offered to us in Christ. Every story is different. Some conclude with resounding triumph while others end in struggle. But all raise important questions about humanity’s hunger and capacity for glory, and all teach us to love and see beauty.

Zondevan. 272 pages.

Infinite Beauty Finished Engineering Drawing

With vivid narration, Ramsey introduces us to nine great painters and sculptors whose complicated biographies illustrate how, even in our fallen state, human beings blend beauty and futility. Michelangelo sculpts his six-ton ​​magnum opus David while ignoring the cracks in the marble that reflect his own sexual shame. Caravaggio’s brush brings the Bible to life while his temper and intemperance inflict death at night. Van Gogh fills his canvases with peace and light while a storm of self-doubt and depression darkens his heart. Rembrandt’s most immortal painting falls prey to thieves and gets lost in the winds of time. And Lilias Trotter sacrifices her artistic career to serve and evangelize the poor in an African desert.

These artists and their work reveal how God sees all of his image bearers: “fully exposed in our flaws,” in our private torments, or in our subjection to decadence. Ramsey sees in Van Gogh Self-portrait with bandaged ear an image of our “spiritual and relational poverty”. (For those unaware, van Gogh cut off his ear in a paranoid frenzy and gave it to a prostitute.) This painting of a man at his lowest moment is an accurate representation of our “shame and need for rescue”. even as we, like the anguished Dutch master, refract the brilliance of God in our flawed efforts to bring out beauty.

Artists can dazzle us with their talent, but even the greatest genius is finished. Through the secret lenses that allowed Vermeer to paint with uncanny precision, Ramsey sees a humble dependence on others, a “borrowed light” that proves none of us are self-sufficient. We don’t just need God, but each other, and even geniuses depend on someone to make their brushes. Without the Paris studio that Frédéric Bazille provided for his fellow artists, the world might never have learned of names like Degas, Renoir or Monet. These men would have remained penniless and obscure. Pure talent wasn’t enough for them, and it’s not enough for any of us. We need help.

Artists can dazzle us with their talent, but even the greatest genius is finished. Ramsey sees a humble dependence on others, a “borrowed light” that proves none of us are self-sufficient. We need not only God but also each other.

Ramsey manages to make these points while making art history read like a novel. His colorful accounts of the lives of biblical characters and the painters who gave them faces will inform and move you. For too many people, art museums are places of boredom and bewilderment. We wander from room to room admiring the paintings but uncertain of the meaning that their creators wanted to convey. This book will teach you to see life in every frame, worth telling stories and human struggles that say as much about us as the long-dead Impressionists.

It should also be noted that Ramsey chose to celebrate artists whose work mimics creation to some degree. All of the painters and sculptors he describes produced recognizable scenes and portraits, whether stark and realistic or stylized and luminous. Not everything called “art” today is beautiful. works like Onement VI, My bedand Piss Christ ranging from disconcerting to blasphemous. The late philosopher Roger Scruton chronicled this descent and begged viewers to rediscover an older, nobler understanding of art and architecture. And although Ramsey does not engage in this debate in this book, there are signs that he shares Scruton’s distaste for much modern and postmodern art.

Find Beauty

Rembrandt is in the wind also challenges Christians who have emphasized truth and goodness while neglecting beauty. Where religious art and the art of religious once inspired the world, today’s Christians have largely retreated “into the realm of personal conduct and intellectual assent” (9). It’s a problem. Artist and author Makoto Fujimura asks in the foreword: “Why art?” (xiii), and Ramsey’s answer is that beauty fully expresses truth and goodness:

Beauty takes the pursuit of goodness beyond the mere personal ethical conduct at work of intentionally doing good to others and for others. Beauty brings the pursuit of truth beyond the accumulation of knowledge to the proclamation and application of truth in the name of caring for others. Beauty draws us deeper into community. We want to share the experience of beauty with other people, to look at someone close to us and say, “Do you hear that? Do you see that? How beautiful!” (9)

Perhaps more importantly, beauty is fragile. Consider the transience same of works of art that we consider immortal – Michelangelo Davidwho will overthrow one day, da Vinci mona-lisa, which is kept under climate control to slow its decay, or even Notre-Dame Cathedral, which caught fire three years ago before the eyes of the world. Ramsey reminds us that all of man’s greatest works of beauty will eventually succumb to corruption. Indeed, its title alludes to the fact that many, like that of Rembrandt The Storm on the Sea of ​​Galilee, I have already. No one knows if this masterpiece, cut from its frame by thieves 32 years ago, still exists. It’s “in the wind”, maybe forever.

It also seems to be our destiny. The artists Ramsey describes, like their art, have been rocked by storms of spiritual and bodily corruption. Their human frailty and flaws obscured the beauty they painted and the beauty of God’s image in them. But the sleeping Savior at the back of Rembrandt’s boat can calm the storms. For Ramsey, it is no coincidence that Jesus appears in so many great works of art. The human quest for beauty is in many ways a quest to transcend our sad condition – not only to create but also to manifest a glory that will last. This means that if we ourselves are images, we owe it to an artist. And if he hasn’t put down his brush yet, that’s good news, indeed.

About Bernice D. Brewer

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