The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

John the Apostle at the Death of the Virgin



Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Death of the Virgin, c. 1564, grisaille, Upton House, Banbury, Oxfordshire, England, first owned by the famous Antwerp cartographer, and friend of Bruegel, Abraham Ortelius, and later owned by the Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens.



Philips Galle's 1574 engraving thereafter, published by Galle and Ortelius, jointly.


"John the Apostle at the Death of the Virgin"

Scholars for years have wondered about John,
As placed apart in the Virgin's bedroom, and
Not only apart, but asleep, when all others
So attentive around the bedside of Mary,
Virgin and mother of God Incarnate.
Mary, soon to depart, to rejoin her son,
Readied for her transition from this world
To the next, to throw off her mortal coil,
And be robed in immortality, by her own Son.
Why sleeps John, at such a moment?

Why sleeps John, indeed? Why John?
John, with his brother James, and Peter,
Disciples, the closest three to Jesus.
Among these three, John singled out,
In Christ's last earthly legacy, to John
He entrusted the care of his mother.
Was he, the care-giver, now worn out?
Relieved his burden to let go? Tired
Beyond the understanding of the others,
Who had not known his singular burden?

Peter, James, and John, these three,
Consider all they shared with Christ:
They alone did witness the raising of
Jarius's daughter, saw life restored
To a girl, already dead. They alone
Were witness to Christ's Transfiguration,
Glimpsing this man as also divine.
They alone remained as witnesses
To Christ's lone agony in the garden
of Gethsemane, time of deep rue.

How our Lord with his Father did struggle,
Beseeching Him, with sweat and blood,
Falling as teardrops from his agonized brow,
Resistant to his fate, imploring God
To let pass this bitter, but inevitable cup.
What did Peter, James, and John, his companions,
In this dark hour? With him watchful? No!
They all did fall asleep! And so it was again!
Mary, now, his special charge, in her last hour,
And John, he sleeps, or dreams of Patmos.

--John W, Dec 10, 2009,
having been taken by admired Bruegel,
to the Virgin's bedchamber, in the home of John,
leaving me wondering, am I sleeping, dreaming,
when I should be watchful?-Can we each see
ourselves as the exhausted, self-absorbed
companions of those closest to us, in their
time of need? And yet, what mercy, what grace,
for sleepy-head John was ever called, "the
disciple whom Jesus loved;" and to him was
entrusted, if tradition be correct, when on Patmos,
the most extraordinary of all visions that
man has ever had, the vision of end times
and eternity, as recorded in the Bible's
Book of Revelation, from the hand of John.

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I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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