The Sermon On the Mount [Faith and Art]

Claude Lorraine was a seventeenth-century painter who worked primarily in Rome, but also France and Germany.  He was an early pioneer of landscape painting.  Often he would take a subject from history, mythology or scripture (as was the custom of the day) but would set it such that the surrounding landscape was as much a focus of the work as any action.  His Sermon on the Mount is a good example.

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Can you spot Jesus?  He’s the figure in blue on top of the mound.  His placement and attire draw the eye, but you’d be hard-pressed to call Him the sole focus of the painting.  Claude has taken the traditional composition of this story–Jesus seated, surrounded by followers including women and children –and placed it within this sweeping vista.

In doing so, Claude does two things I love.  First, rather than giving the impression of an intimate seminar for the disciples and a select few, this setting reminds that the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of the teachings Jesus did while out in the wide world.  He often spoke to large and varied crowds, and his teaching happened in the midst of daily life.

Second, look again at the picture.  Start at Jesus and let your eye fall toward the lower left.  At the base of the mount is an open rock tomb.  It’s a gentle reminder that foundation of all Christ’s teachings for us is the resurrection.  Though this story takes early in His earthly ministry, we reflect on it with greater meaning because of the coming triumph over sin and death.

I suggest taking some time to sit with this picture alongside Matthew chapters 5-7.  Look especially at Matthew 6:25-34.  What does it mean to place the words “Do not worry about your life” or “seek first the kingdom of God” in such a grand scape?

For more on Claude Lorraine, check out The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

On Faith and Art posts: I preach with slides and over the last few years, I have endeavored to include fine art images wherever appropriate (and legally available).  For more than two thousand years artists across the world have produced moving works based on Biblical texts and the stories of the Christian faith.  These are often so dense with meaning that there isn’t time within bounds of the sermon to show or explain it all.  So these entries are thoughts from the cutting room floor.