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The Incarnation

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Standing next to a couple at the Barnes Foundation on Friday, I overheard the woman state that Albert Barnes was an artist.  Each wall is organized with paintings, frames, knives, and hinges hung on top burlap and furniture below.  This was his work of art as he paid a great deal of attention to the ways the pieces spoke and contrasted with one another.  There is a certain balance and symmetry to each wall and Barnes tends to place paintings together with similar tone and hue.  I also noticed that there were rooms and sections of the museum where paintings were clumped together based on whether they were portrait or landscape. 

            In one room that held primarily religious portraits, I was drawn to Peter Paul Ruben’s The Incarnation as Fulfillment of All the Prophecies.  Ruben paints his piece very much in the grandeur Baroque style that emphasizes the importance and intensity of religious figures and events.  When I first approached it I immediately thought of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment that I had studied in my art history class The Classical Tradition.  We learned that Michelangelo’s immense fresco depicted Christ’s return where the sinful would be sent to hell and the holy rise to heaven.  Similar to The Last Judgment, Ruben places God in a prominent spot near the top and surrounds Him with saints and angels.  Although tiny in comparison to Michelangelo’s piece, The Incarnation as Fulfillment of All the Prophecies manages to create a similar effect thanks to the complexity of the setup and the attention to detail.

            While spending time with Ruben’s painting, I used a majority considering the story told in this painting.  Ruben’s piece shows exactly as the title suggests: the Incarnation.  According to Christian belief, the Incarnation is “the terminology used to describe what happened when the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, ‘became flesh’ as he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary according to the Bible.” ("Incarnation of the Son of God").  As I spent more time with this piece, I began to notice that the majority of focus was not placed only on God but rather on both Him and Mary.  Mary is shown in the far left middle of this piece in a position that suggests prayer.  An angel descends upon her to give her the message that she is pregnant with Christ.  God gazes down on her as if to watch the angel’s delivery.  The figures below point and watch Mary and the angel, which makes them a focal part of the painting. 

            Ruben uses oil paint to create a very detailed and intricate work of art.  His colors are not particularly vibrant, however, which may be due to aging.  Nearly every color seems to be mixed with white, especially in the top third meant to depict heaven.  The painting is clearly divided in three with a significant division between heaven and earth made by the black clouds surrounding the angelic figures.  The first third shows heaven, second third illustrates Mary’s delivery, and bottom third pictures a crowd watching the second scene.

            When in museums, I often find myself drawn to portraits and it surprised me that I chose to spend the thirty minutes with this piece.  I think what most attracted me to The Incarnation as Fulfillment of All the Prophecies was the complexity and story behind it.  Rather than simply staring at it and waiting for an emotional connection, I found myself analyzing it which has a great deal to do with the art history class I’m taking.  The Classical Tradition focuses on works of art from antiquity, which share many similarities with this piece.  A large amount of the work studied is Christian and depicts figures wearing similar draped clothing.  Ruben’s piece is unique from those studied due to its pastel tone and fairly small size.  Albert Barnes surrounds the painting with small metal crosses along with miniature portraits of saints.  The Incarnation as Fulfillment of All the Prophecies is placed in a striking gold frame which draws ones attention in and makes Ruben’s piece a prominent part of Barnes’ work of art.

"Incarnation of the Son of God." - Theopedia, an Encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.


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