Garden of Desire. Artist: Donald Jackson.

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Click to enlarge.

The Garden of Desire illumination is rich with details intended to evoke the many images and layers of meaning in the Song of Solomon. The eye is drawn first to the garden of the title and its wall, and on closer inspection you’ll discover that the garden houses an intricate labyrinth outlined in delicate gold. Expanding your view outward, notice the line segments, some bright gold and others warm red, that have escaped the garden. If captured and reassembled, these segments would cover a portion of the labyrinth; they are puzzle pieces. Their travels around the page lead your eye to the border where you might notice first the trees, then the flowers, houses, camels, birds, and people.

The labyrinth, puzzle pieces, and border reference the Song’s imagery and meaning layers. One can read the Song as a love poem between humans and also as an expression of God’s love for Israel. Similarly the labyrinth can be a symbol of the path one travels to reach Wisdom however defined: knowledge, peace with the world and oneself, God, etc. The puzzle pieces have escaped and become disordered, but perhaps they long for order and desire to be reunited. They might represent humans’ desire for social connection, and for some people connection to God.

In The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, Susan Sink writes that artist Donald Jackson enthusiastically embraced the “opportunity to find a visual language for this poetry” and states that the Bible’s highest ratio of illumination to text is found in the Song of Solomon book: “two back-to-back spreads and a text treatment adorn the eight chapters.” (Vol. 2, p. 32) You can see the shadow of the second back-to-back spread on the right-hand page of this illumination. The shadow is specially printed on the Heritage Edition to mimic the ink bleed-through that occurred in the original.

The Crucifixion. Artist: Donald Jackson.

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Click to enlarge.

The “Crucifixion” illumination from Luke will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, April 16, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:15 p.m. (40 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. Campus Ministry’s Interactive Lenten Calendar provides this commentary:

This is the beginning of Holy Week. Lent is almost over. How far have you come on this Journey to Jerusalem we began on Ash Wednesday? Are you standing with Jesus as he enters Jerusalem? Will you be with him on Friday? Spend some time asking for the grace of fidelity, for love. May we be true to our call to follow Christ. May we be true to our invitation to love. Jesus did the difficult work. We have only to respond to his gift.

Throughout The Saint John’s Bible, gold leaf represents the divine. This illumination is awash in it, representing Christians’ belief that Jesus is God. The customary outline of the crucified figure is barely visible. Breaking through the dazzling gilt, we see other elements of the story: on either side the two crosses representing the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus; on the left the moon and stars representing the hours of darkness over the land that coincided with the event; on the right a file of people representing the procession with the cross to Golgotha.

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Click to enlarge.

On the facing page in the Bible you will see a scene from the story of the road to Emmaus (right),  in which Jesus appeared to two of his disciples.

Suffering Servant. Artist: Donald Jackson.

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Click to enlarge.

The “Suffering Servant” illumination from Isaiah will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, April 9, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:15 p.m. (40 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. Campus Ministry’s Interactive Lenten Calendar provides this commentary:

The Prophets describe a coming Messiah who will restore peace and justice to Israel, yet he will be despised by the wicked and bear their sins quietly. Thus, he is called the Suffering Servant. In Jackson’s image, an emaciated prisoner stands above the head of a lamb, referencing the text in which the Messiah endures his tormenters with grace, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7). The shadow of a modern chain link fence surrounds the Servant, drawing a parallel between the Messiah’s suffering and that of victims of suffering in today’s world. But just as the figure stands alone in Jackson’s image, so the Suffering Servant will one day be singled out by God to reign in Zion.

Regarding the chain link fence, Susan Sink in The Art of The Saint John’s Bible specifies, “This image was taken from pictures of the fence around Guantanamo Bay, Cuba…The confinement closer to the figure suggests the narrow bars of the Door of No Return at Elmina Castle in Ghana, the passage through which Africans were taken onto ships, bound for slavery in the New World.” (vol. 2, p. 68)

 

Valley of Dry Bones. Artist: Donald Jackson.

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Click to enlarge.

The “Valley of Dry Bones” illumination from Ezekiel will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, April 2, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:15 p.m. (40 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. Campus Ministry’s Interactive Lenten Calendar provides a prompt:

God makes all things new. He raises the dead. He gives the dry bones new flesh. So, too, in our own lives. God can transform all things. Where do you need God’s work in your life? Ask God for this grace.

This illumination illustrates Ezekiel 37: 1-14, in which God sets Ezekiel in the middle of a valley filled with dry bones, representing a destroyed society cut off from faith. Ezekiel preaches the word of God to the bones, and God promises the bones that He will “put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” You will find many human bones in this illumination, as well as the figurative bones of civilization.

In The Art of the Saint John’s Bible, Susan Sink relates how Donald Jackson began work on this illumination with an Internet search, looking for documentary photos of human suffering.

“The skulls are based on photos taken of genocide and war in Armenia, Rwanda, Iraq, and Bosnia. The piles of broken glass suggest the broken windows caused by car bombs…. At the center is a pile of eyeglasses, a well-known image from the Holocaust. [...] For Donald Jackson the waste of ecological disaster is part of the larger image…. The three automobile hulls are one sign of the spiritual death of society.” (Sink, vol. 2, p. 82)

Yet throughout the image we find glimmers of hope. Note the splash of oil on the right-hand page, with a rainbow sheen connecting the dry bones to the exultant rainbow at the top. Remember the gold squares from the Creation image? They are present here, indicating divine watchfulness.

Finally, note the seven menorahs, a sign throughout the Saint John’s Bible of creation and covenant. Sink notes: “Here the seven gold and black bars are intersected by arcs that end in points of light. Seven menorahs with seven points of light rise out of and transcend the wreckage and wrongdoings of humankind….” (Sink, vol. 2, p. 83)

A post about the Valley of Dry Bones illumination originally appeared in the Clark Library Blog on October 29, 2013.

The Ten Commandments. Artist: Thomas Ingmire.

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The “Ten Commandments” illumination from Exodus will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, March 26, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:15 p.m. (40 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. Campus Ministry’s Interactive Lenten Calendar provides a prompt:

God’s giving of the Ten Commandments atop of Mount Sinai ranks was one of the greatest religious events of all time. Moses acts as the intermediary for the people who are too frightened to approach the mountain or who have been prohibited from doing so. Not only do the Ten Commandments have significance in religious history, but they have also had a tremendous effect on civil law the world over. Just as the creation in Genesis brought order from the chaos, the Law, according to Jewish interpretation, brings order from the chaos of lawless society. In this sense, the giving of the Law is a new creation. The law forms the foundation of the covenant that God is establishing with His people.

A Saint John’s Bible press release about this illumination says “Just as the creation in Genesis brought order from the chaos, the Law, according to Jewish interpretation, brings order from the chaos of lawless society. In this sense, the giving of the Law is a new creation.” In this illumination we find several references to the Creation image, e.g. the multiple panels across the top, the inclusion of birds (look for eyes and wings). The panels represent four stories: the burning bush, the first Passover, the Red Sea crossing, and the twelve pillars erected at the foot of Mount Sinai.

The architectural features and religious symbols you see here will appear in other SJB illuminations, such as the faint menorah in the burning bush, the pillars/skyline, and the Cubist elements in the middle panels.

Artist Thomas Ingmire draws our attention to the typography on the page, saying “the most fascinating part for me in the Ten Commandments is their relationship to the history of writing. The Commandments were given in alphabetical form, rather than pictograms. As I see it, the Commandments could only be taken in as a mysterious code by the Hebrews (themselves slaves and not necessarily literate). The Lord, by the second Commandment which forbade the creation of engraved images, reinforced the mystery. His words, in alphabetical form, were the strongest evidence of his existence: I am who I am – no pictures, statues…..Words = God. This is clearly an abstract concept – just as the alphabet, when one really thinks about it, is a completely abstract concept.  I am interested in the idea that God presented himself as an abstraction and the abstraction was the Word.”

Susan Sink adds, “the familiar words of the commandments [are] stenciled in Stone Sans typeface as though engraved on tablets.” (The Art of the Saint John’s Bible, vol. 1, p. 27)

A post about the Ten Commandments illumination originally appeared in the Clark Library Blog on September 13, 2013.

Transfiguration. Donald Jackson with contributions from Aidan Hart.

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Click to enlarge.

The Transfiguration illumination from Mark 9 marks Sunday, March 16, on Campus Ministry’s amazing Interactive Lenten Calendar and will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, March 19, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:15 p.m. (40 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. The Lenten Calendar provides a prompt:

[...]As we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus is transfigured as a sign of his divine origin. The apostles Peter, James, and John are witnesses to it. Peter, in his zeal, seeks to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but before he knows it, the vision vanishes. In our lives, too, we have glimpses of the Lord. We experience great consolations. We see the love of God at work in the world, in our lives, in prayer, and, most profoundly, in relationships. At times, we see God’s presence most palpably in these contexts. Just as the disciples, however, we are sent down the mountain. As much as we would enjoy staying in the vision to enjoy God’s presence, we are sent back to the valley. We are sent back among others.[...]

As with the Life in Community illumination, iconographer Aidan Hart created the images of Elijah and Moses. Drawing on iconographic tradition, Hart gives Moses two tablets to hold as a symbol of his identity. His and Elijah’s ordinary garments contrast with Jesus’ vestments and serve as pieces of a frame, along with the mottled blue sky and purple earth. The “dazzling white” of the passage is rendered here by a swarm of white crosses, setting Jesus apart from his companions. Likewise, Elijah and Moses’ detailed facial features identify them as men, while Jesus is both present and not present in his incomplete appearance. The gold cross behind him recalls the illumination illustrating his birth, as well as his crucifixion.

“Correction Bumblebee” in Wisdom 7. Artist: Chris Tomlin.

Correction Bee in Wisdom of Solomon cropped

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A bee works a pulley next to verses from Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 7 — verses referencing the Wisdom Woman illumination previously on display. The text reads:

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
[I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.]
I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.

As with the library’s earlier “Correction Lemur” display, The text in brackets is missing. Remember that in the original Saint John’s Bible, written in ink on vellum, the scribe could scrape off a faulty stroke or character, but each page of the Bible took 7 to 10 hours to write and so missing lines of text were a bigger issue. The Bible artists solved the problem in a whimsical way, by recruiting animals to lift the missing line into place. Take a look at the display page; the missing line appears at the bottom of the page, and the bee has enclosed it in a box tied with a rope running through a pulley. The pulley’s top wheel, and a tiny arrow, mark the correct location for the missing text. The other two wheels help to guide your eye along the ropes to the passage.

Sarah Harris and Donald Jackson designed the pulley system based on Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical drawings. Artist Chris Tomlin, who studied natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art in London, drew many botanical and animal images for The Saint John’s Bible, some of which appeared in previous images on this blog, such as the lemur, the chameleon at the end of 2 Maccabees, the butterflies on Jacob’s Ladder, and the coral snake and other animals in the Garden of Eden / Adam and Eve illumination.

Wisdom Woman. Artist: Donald Jackson.

In this illumination, Wisdom appears as a woman, reflected in a hand mirror with moon-inscribed frame and cosmic elements in the corners. The reference is to chapter 7 of Wisdom of Solomon: “For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God.” Solomon prayed to God to send Wisdom to help him, and eternal Wisdom will attend Solomon and help him with his work.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Wisdom’s image is based on a photograph of a Palestinian woman, and is according to Susan Sink the only image inspired by an actual human face other than Adam and Eve. (The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 2, p. 37). The image was silk-screened onto the original vellum multiple times — at least four — in an “unforgiving” process (Sink, p. 37) that gives the artist a single chance to get things right. The two-page nature of the image made the arrangement much more difficult.

Sink describes Wisdom Woman’s face as “perfect:”

The crow’s feet around her eyes and the sparkle in those eyes emit more joy than her slight smile suggests. Like Wisdom, she is full of light. She has squinted into the sun, and she has looked hard at life, and she has laughed. The lines on her forehead show she has worried and given her full attention to the task at hand. Her smile is knowing, somewhat secretive, but also intimate — she will tell us her secret if we ask. (p. 38)

Take a closer look at the mirror’s round frame and you will notice another reference to the feminine, in the depiction of the moon’s 28-day cycle. The paintings in the mirror’s four corners are based on images from the Hubble telescope. The “wisdom tree” stamp in the margins, based on a piece of cloth from India that was embroidered and appliquéd with mirrors, appears throughout the Wisdom books and has been seen in previous displays such as Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Revelation Frontispiece.

“Correction Lemur” in 2 Chronicles 11. Artist: Chris Tomlin.

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Click to enlarge.

A ring-tailed lemur swings on vines adjacent to a passage, the first lines of 2 Chronicles 11. The text reads:

2 “But the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah the man of God: 3 “Say to [King Rehoboam of Judah, Son of Solomon, and to] all Israel in Judah and Benjamin, 4 ‘Thus says the Lord: You shall not go up or fight against your kindred. Let everyone return home, for this thing is from me.’ So they heeded the word of the Lord and turned back from the expedition against Jeroboam.”

The text in brackets is missing. In the original Saint John’s Bible, written in ink on vellum, the scribe could scrape off a faulty stroke or character, but each page of the Bible took 7 to 10 hours to write and so missing lines of text were a bigger issue. The Bible artists solved the problem in a whimsical way, by recruiting animals to lift the missing line into place. Take a look at the display page; the missing line appears at the bottom of the page, and the lemur’s vines have snared it. The vine in the lemur’s right hand traces the correct location for the missing text.

Artist Chris Tomlin, who studied natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art in London, drew many botanical and animal images for The Saint John’s Bible, some of which appeared in previous images on this blog, such as the chameleon at the end of 2 Maccabees, the butterflies on Jacob’s Ladder, and the coral snake and other animals in the Garden of Eden / Adam and Eve illumination. This ring-tailed lemur from Madagascar is the favorite of several library staff.

Esther. Artist: Donald Jackson.

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Click to enlarge.

In the Bible, Esther is an Israelite orphan who becomes queen at a young age and then collaborates with her uncle and a foreign king to foil the plans of a man who would destroy her people. This beautiful design expresses many aspects of the story of Esther in a small space. We see Esther’s dual identity in the “split screen” depiction of her face and environment. On the right is the beautiful Israelite and the menorah representing her heritage. On the left she wears her queenly headdress and other regalia, and sumptuous tapestries surround her. In The Art of The Saint John’s Bible Susan Sink reports

Although [these images] are not based on the period in the story, they are taken from pieces in the region that are marks of royalty and weddings. Esther’s queenship is marked by finery and “cosmetic” treatments, crowned by a gold figure of the lion of Babylon and by rich Persian rugs. The images on the left side of the illumination are inspired by Turkmen (Afghan) traditional bridal gifts and ancient Persian gold artifacts such as coins, jewelry, and textiles.(Vol. 3, p. 68)

Sink further notes, “The face of Queen Esther…is based on a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt.” Bloch-Bauer was Klimt’s patroness, married at age 18 to a man 17 years older. By using Adele as his model, artist Donald Jackson alludes to the existence of such “May-December” marriages throughout history (Sink, vol. 3, p. 67).
Hanging at the lower left we see what happened to the treacherous official, named Haman; the image is apparently based on images of public executions in Saudi Arabia and is intended to cause viewers to reflect on the presence of violence and war in current events (Sink, vol. 3, p. 68).