WALK THE TALK: ‘Jesus Denounces the Scribes and Pharisees’, an etching by Friedrich Ludy

 WALK THE TALK: ‘Jesus Denounces the Scribes and Pharisees’, an etching by Friedrich Ludy

As religious works of art soaked in a gamut of colours hailed Churches and Cathedrals, a monochrome version of the same illustrated the Bible and other religious books. It accompanied the printed word and shared in the enhancement of faith. These illustrations were mostly conceived through the process of printmaking and etching.

Etching is the art of creating an impression (quite literally!). It treasures beauty at its framework. The technique employed is as appealing as the final outcome. So what is it all about?

The artist begins by securing a copper metal plate. It is cleaned and the edges are beveled. Next the plate is evenly covered with an acid resistant coating made from bitumen, beeswax and resin. This is known as the ground.

With the aid of an etching needle the artist draws on the ground. This exposes the metal below. Subsequently the plate is immersed in an acid bath. The acid eats away the exposed metal revealing a pattern of recessed lines. These lines are covered with ink and the plate is then applied to a damp paper. The design transfers onto the paper, thus creating a print.

The print in consideration is the work of a German artist, Friedrich Ludy (1823 – 1896). It reflects the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 1 – 12. Poised between the two groups of Jewish clad men is our narrator. Garbed in a European demeanour, he chronicles the event before him. Thus his story goes:

Having heard the tales and the talks in town, I looked around for the rumoured ‘Messiah’. As I strolled down the stoned walls of the temple of Jerusalem, I could hear the people talk about the ongoing confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. In hushed tones they described how the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ authority. Jesus responded with the three parables of judgement. Next they tried to trap him. But His wisdom prevailed.

The chatter around me excited my pace as I hurried down the Temple courtyard. There seated barefoot by a Corinth pillar were a group of mundane Jewish men. The man beside me identified them as Peter and Andrew, James and John and Thomas. They seemed lost in thought as they heeded the words of the one who sat in their midst.

It was indeed Him whom my heart was seeking. His appearance was marked by a composed firmness. His lifted hand and gaze met that of the scheming scribes and Pharisees standing before him. The first to my right haughtily looked down upon Jesus as he proposed their perfect observance of the law especially with regards to the prescription of purity.

Jesus neatly reminded him that they unnecessarily burden the people with ‘religious interpretations’ which are far from justice, mercy and love. The next Pharisee sporting a beard and a Jewish cap clutched the book of the law with pride. Of course he was a man of honour and needed to be greeted as the Rabbi. Jesus shuns off the title reiterating that there is only one ‘Teacher, Father and Messiah.’

the Pharisees

The Pharisee next to him couldn’t digest this. Cloaked in a rich flowing garb he wrestles his wits for a comeback. His prayer shawl and head band is illustrated with broad phylacteries. These are parchment rolls on which were written the commandments that were stripped onto the forehead and the borders of their garments. These featured onto the outside of the cloak with no reverence or adherence at the inside of the heart.

Jesus condemned this incoherence between words and actions. He looked around at each one of us and called the Pharisees and the people to be faithful more than successful, to practice what we preach and to walk the talk as we journey on in our lives!
Joynel Fernandes
Asst. Director Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

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