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Thought for the week - 24 January 2021

Gospel John 2: 1-11. The Wedding at Cana.

The picture below is by Veronese, painted in 1563. It depicts the scene as if it were in Venice.

The picture hangs in the Paris Louvre.

Veronese's interpretation of the Biblical story caused a huge scandal among Venetian society. His emphasis on the hedonistic aspects of a marriage banquet, at the expense of the pious aspects of the occasion, ran counter to the religious sensibilities of the 16th century Republic of Venice.

The content of the painting consists of a complex mixture of the sacred and the profane, religious and secular, theatrical and mundane, European and Oriental.

The entire work, symbolizes the interplay between earthly pleasure and earthly mortality. Behind the balustrade, above the figure of Jesus, an animal is being slaughtered, an allusion to the forthcoming sacrifice of Jesus, as the Lamb of God - a reference which is supported by the dog who is chewing a bone at the foot of the painting. Meanwhile, to the left of Jesus, The Virgin Mary cups her hands to represent a glass that will contain the new wine - that is, the Blood of Christ. In addition, set in front of the musicians is an hourglass, a standard reference to the transience of earthly pleasures including human vanity.

The diners at the nuptial table - all waiting for wine to be served for the dessert course of the meal - include: the bride and groom (seated at the left end of the table), Jesus Christ (centre of the table), surrounded by Mary and the Apostles, along with a bewildering array of royalty, noblemen, officials, clerks, servants, and others, representing a cross-section of Venetian society and dressed variously in Biblical, Venetian or Oriental outfits and adorned with sumptuous coiffures and items of jewellery. Numerous historical figures appear including: Emperor Charles V, Eleanor of Austria, Francis I of France, Mary I of England, Suleiman the Magnificent, Vittoria Colonna, Giulia Gonzaga, Cardinal Pole, and Sokollu Mehmet Pasa. In all, some 130 unique figures are depicted.

The detail in the painting is staggering. Above Jesus, on the elevated walkway on the other side of the ballustrade, a butcher is cutting up meat; while a porter (right) arrives with more supplies. At the foot of the picture, a barefoot manservant (right) pours red wine from a large, ornate cask into a pitcher. Standing behind the servant, studying the contents of his wine glass is Benedetto Caliari (Veronese's brother). A black-skinned, servant boy (far-left) offers a glass of wine to the bridegroom; behind him, a dwarf is holding a bright green parrot. Note the detail of the cutlery and dishes laid out on the table - each place setting, for example, consists of a napkin, knife and fork. And see the little brown and white dog standing on the table to the right of Benedetto Caliari. (Notice also the dog (top-left) poking its nose through the balustrade, and the cat (right) playing on its back on the right.)

It might be said that all of life is there. Tradesmen, nobles etc.etc., even animals. The fact that this Gospel passage is chosen for this period, still if you like, in the immediate Epiphanytide season, continues to help us to think wider about the incarnation. Jesus is human-born in a stable. The lowly shepherds come, followed by the ‘Kings’ representing both the power and wisdom of the world. The Incarnation is not just for the few, but for all. The Incarnation puts God-in Jesus right into the midst of the totality of creation and society. This is an important part of what Veronese was expressing. In part at least he is also challenging the notion, prevalent at the time of the painting, that religion, salvation, heaven was for the chosen few.

You can put yourself into the picture. Where can you find yourself? You can find yourself in the theological picture of the Incarnation too. Jesus comes for you and me no matter what our station in life. He comes whether or not we are looking for him or concentrating on him. He doesn’t come to us just on Sundays, in Church, he comes into every aspect of our life.


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