OF OIL PAINTS AND ‘TALENTS’: The Parable of the Talents by Willem de Porter

OF OIL PAINTS AND ‘TALENTS’: The Parable of the Talents by Willem de Porter

An image speaketh a thousand words

The art of painting for long has chiseled and enamored the heart, mind, soul and spirit of man. Paintings narrate stories sprinkled with colors and life. The material, style and technique have come a long way through the ages.

Essentially a painting involves applying pigment onto a supporting base. The pigment has to  be combined with a binding medium to prepare the paint. This medium could range from hot bees wax in encaustic painting, to egg yolk in tempera and oil in oil painting.

Prominent since the 1500’s, oil painting includes pigment mixed with linseed, poppy seed or walnut oil. A trump card indeed, the oil provides flexibility and depth to the color. In addition, since oil paint is slow to dry, it gives the painter the benefit of time.

Now the supporting base for an oil painting could be a canvas or a panel. Today’s painting in consideration titled ‘The Parable of the Talents’ by Willem De Porter is an oil on wood panel painting. What technique did the artist employ to accomplish this work of art?

Primarily the artist would begin by laying his hands onto a slab of white poplar (if Italian) or oak (if Dutch). He would then proceeds to season and plane it. Next he would size the wood using animal glue. This method involved applying 15 layers of gesso (a white absorbent ground made from chalk and glue). The artist would next execute the drawing and finally apply the layers of paint. Did Porter follow this technique? Well, most probably yes.

Along with the technique Porter follows a narrative as well. He illustrates the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14 to 30. As a Dutch artist of the Golden age, Porter’s style pursues that of his contemporary Rembrandt. Like the Master of Light and Shadows, he exercises chiaroscuro to enhance his narrative. He plays with sight intending to extend an experience and not just information through light.

This experience is captured by the eye and animated by the soul. The scene is set in a stone castle. Within a cascading room of drapery are positioned a group of men seated and standing around a teak table. The master of the house sits on his arm chair while his trunk and baggage are scattered carelessly around him. This suggests that he has arrived afresh from a long journey.

As peculiarly observed, light is instrumental in dividing the painting into the background and the foreground. Lurking among the grayish blue shadows and leaning against an exquisite metal railing is the wife of the merchant/master. She curiously sprawls in an attempt to catch a glimpse of her spouse. Right behind her, gazing through the window is the father, awaiting his son.

The presence of the anticipating wife and the father illuminates the personality of the master. It reveals at once that he is a man of business and he means business. At his return, he catches up not with rest but rather with his servants in order to settle the accounts. Thus the Master is hardworking, diligent and calls for accountability.

A quick flashback concedes that the Master had entrusted his estate to his servants before embarking onto his journey. Each servant received talents in accordance to his ability. While the first two servants bear fruit by ‘multiplying’ the talents, the third servant staggered in his liability. He not only hid the talent but buried himself in wicked sluggishness.

Located in the eschatological discourse of Matthew’s Gospel, the parable illustrates how the disciples are to wait in faithfulness until the Lord returns. The Master’s return is certain but the timing unknown. The third servant, weary of waiting, numbed his senses of the imminent Parousia. As lethargy got the better of him, he feared the risk in serving His Master. Eventually his mediocrity cost him dearly!

Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am to 5pm. For a guided tour please contact: 022 – 29271557

For a scriptural understanding of today’s Gospel please refer to: http://www.pottypadre.com/mea-maxima-culpa/

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