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Martin O'Kane

Abstract

The article explores the processes at work in a painting's engagement of its viewer in biblical subject matter. It accentuates the role of the artist as an active reader of the Bible and not merely an illustrator of biblical scenes, the dynamic that occurs in the text-reader process as paradigmatic for the image-viewer relationship and the important role of the developing tradition that felt the need to change or rewrite the biblical story. The processes are explored in terms of hermeneutics and exegesis: hermeneutics defined as 'the interweaving of language and life within the horizon of the text and within the horizons of traditions and the modern reader' (Gadamer) and exegesis as 'the dialectic between textual meaning and the reader's existence' (Berdini). Applied to the visualization of biblical subject matter, the approaches of Gadamer and Berdini illumine the key role given to the viewer in the visual hermeneutical process. The biblical story of the adoration of the Magi (Matt. 2: 1-12), the first public and universal seeing of Christ and one of the most frequently depicted themes in the entire history of biblical art, is used to illustrate their approach. The emphasis in the biblical narrative on revealing the Christ child to the reader parallels a key concept in Gadamer's hermeneutical aesthetics, namely Darstellung, the way in which a painting facilitates its subject matter in coming forth, in becoming an existential event in the life of the viewer.

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Martin O'Kane

Abstract

The phrase 'in the bosom of Abraham' occurs just once in the Bible (Lk. 16:22) and yet has become one of the most powerful and intriguing visual metaphors in the entire repertoire of Christian iconography. As the focal point of the parable of Dives and Lazarus, it suggests a haven of protection and security to which all the (male) characters in the story aspire. The Greek term κóλπoς, 'bosom,' is an ambiguous term that can be applied as much to a female figure as a male and indeed Abraham is often represented as if he were 'mother of all nations' rather than, or as well as, father. The iconography associated with the image of Abraham's bosom is both extensive and complex, especially during the period of the Middle Ages, but in this article, I select a range of representative examples to illustrate how artists and iconographers appealed to other biblical texts to help illuminate the meaning and significance of the phrase in Luke: in particular, the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22; the infancy narrative of Luke including the presentation in the temple (Luke 1-2), and the woman who gives birth in Revelation 12. In interpreting the image, artists frequently followed the direction of the exegetes and Church Fathers but this does not seem always to have been the case, especially when it came to harmonizing the contrasting images of Abraham as sacrificial father of Isaac and protective father of Lazarus. Contrary to many biblical commentators, the iconographical tradition largely ignores any suggestion that the bosom of Abraham signifies Lazarus reclining at a heavenly banquet next to Abraham, preferring instead to concentrate on the challenges posed in conveying the somewhat incongruous notion of Abraham, the most venerated of patriarchs, holding a naked and vulnerable child in his bosom.

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Martin O'Kane

Abstract

The story of David has occupied the minds of biblical critics and fired the imagination of artists over the years. David's status as founder of a dynasty of kings is highlighted in Jewish and Christian traditions and his multifaceted personality has found expression in many and varied artistic forms. The central focus in this article is the way in which the figure of David has been represented in art and literature generally, but with specific reference to Allan Massie's King David, A Novel (1995) as an interpretation of the biblical story of David. By way of introduction some general comments are offered on the attraction and appeal of the biblical narrative for both artist and writer. Such comments help to situate the discussion of the David narrative within the wider cultural approach, an approach used to good effect in the works of Mieke Bal, Cheryl Exum and Larry Kreitzer.

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Retrospect and Review

Aspects of the Literature of the GDR 1976-1990

Edited by Robert Atkins and Martin Kane

In Retrospect and Review an international team of scholars explore East German literature, and the circumstances of its production, in the last phase of the German Democratic Republic's existence. The provocative claim of the novelist, playwright and essayist Christoph Hein, ‘Ich nehme außerdem für mich in Anspruch [...] elfmal das Ende der DDR beschrieben zu haben,' serves as the starting-point for the twenty-three contributors to the volume, who consider the many and varied ways in which Hein and his fellow writers signalled and diagnosed the demise of the GDR. The fraught relationship between the state and its intellectuals inevitably forms a consistent theme in the studies of writers as diverse as Anna Seghers and Kito Lorenc, Christa Wolf and Jurek Becker, or Irmtraud Morgner and Heiner Müller. However, the process of ‘retrospect and review' also reveals the innovative and independent-minded character of the culture of the GDR's later years. Several contributors trace the emergence of a strong and distinctive women's writing which increasingly and subversively imposed itself on the hitherho patriarchal literary landscape of the GDR. And in the literature of the 1970s and 1980s experimental narrative strategies take on a political role as a counter-discourse to a stubbornly inflexible political order.