Saturday, February 27, 2021

Lent in the Wilderness - Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Rising from Sleep

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Christ in the Wilderness Rising from sleep in the morning  (1940)

The origin of the season of Lent lies not in a conscious re-enactment of the Lord's time in the wilderness, but in the preparation of Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  In many Christian churches, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. Related to Jesus' time in the wilderness, the Bible states;

‘I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee.’ Luke 15:18

British artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) sought to give some form to the Lent's 40 days. In the 1930s-40s Spencer set himself a goal of creating 40 paintings, one for each day Christ was in the wilderness. The series, called "Christ in the Wilderness," never came to full completion. Eighteen drawings were made & 8 paintings completed. Each of the designs explores the solitary figure of Christ interacting with various elements of the wilderness - a hen, a scorpion, lilies, eagles. The paintings titled "Driven by the spirit into the wilderness" was inspired by Mark 1:12.  Nothing overt in the paintings speaks of the details Christ's 40 days in the wilderness, echoing Mark's lack of narrative specifics. The figure of Jesus is not the slim body commonly seen in paintings. A bulky figure & billowing garment are common to all the finished paintings in the series. Spencer envisioned the pictures hanging as a group on the ceiling of a church. In such a position Jesus' garments would be perceived as billowing, ethereal clouds.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Mark 1:12-15