Human Face, Holy Face: Rembrandt and the Spiritual Dimensions of the Portrait
The question “What does it mean to be human?” is critical for believers. We often look to the visual arts for insight, but in both the fine arts and commercial imagery, modern culture presents us with a cacophony of contradictory representations: we find everything from the vapid to the depraved. And too often, alternative images provided by well-meaning believers suggest a spirituality devoid of grit and struggle. Where can we see depictions of human character with the complexity and depth scripture describes?
Portraiture has long been associated with the revelation of character. It gives us an embodied way of knowing our humanity, one that goes deeper than theology or argument. There are many celebrated portrait artists, but even among them, Rembrandt stands out. He had a profound sensitivity to character and a rare ability to communicate something transcendent in the midst of the ordinary ebb and flow of life. His late portraits of Jesus are a radical departure from the previous tradition, in that they depict an individual, and depend less on the historic narratives and symbolic attributes that had been used to identify him for over a millennium.
This fall, the Image seminar will be held in conjunction with an exhibition of these powerful portraits, “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus,” at the renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art. Portrait painter Catherine Prescott and sculptor Theodore Prescott will lead us throughout the long weekend as we visit and discuss the exhibit. The Prescotts will also speak about the making of portraits, the historical context for Rembrandt’s work, and, joined by Image editor Gregory Wolfe, will open a conversation about the way contemporary art might restore us to a fuller understanding of our own humanity.