Reactions: Ford Madox Brown, “Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet”

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet. 1852-56 (retouched several times up to 1892). Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London.

During my class on 1 Peter today I invited students to reflect with me on this painting. After asking for their impressions, I directed their attention first to Peter. How does the Gospel of John record Peter’s response to Jesus’ insistence that he wash the feet of his disciples (John 13: 8 – “You shall never wash my feet”)? How does Brown’s rendering of Peter in this scene interpret Peter’s response to Jesus’ soft rebuke?

Next we looked at those around the table. What does Brown suggest about their own willingness to be served by Jesus? How about the one untying his sandals? How about Judas clutching his head? How about the others who are more or less in the light?

Finally, the image invites the viewer to consider his or her response to Jesus’ insistence that he wash the feet of his followers (Caravaggio and Rembrandt evoke the same in many of their paintings). In other words, in which disciple do we see ourselves? How will it lead us to pray?

Reactions: Salvador Dali’s The Christ of Saint John of the Cross

There will be more “Reactions” posts, as you might have noticed, because I am co-teaching an adult Sunday school class on the Bible and Art. Each week we are taking on a passage in scripture and looking at a particular work as an interpretation of that scene. Last week we did Salvador Dali’s famous masterpiece, Christ of Saint John of the Cross. What are your thoughts?

Reactions » The Graffito of Alexamenos


1st-3rd century AD, etching on marble, Paletine museum in Rome

The Alexamenos Graffito is generally held to be the earliest known pictorial representation of Christ. It consists of a crudely drawn image of a crucified man with the head of an ass and a few words in Greek, ‘Alexamenos worships [his] God.’  Although the artist is unknown, it could have been the crass work of a common page mocking the faith of a fellow slave (Tertullian reported that the pagans of his day ‘foolishly imagine that our God has the head of an ass’).

Perhaps it is fitting that the earliest known visual representation of the crucifixion echoes the apostle Paul’s stark admission:  ‘we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). But is that the case any longer? Have we so packaged and marketed the Gospel that Christ’s death ceases to be the scandel that prompted the taunting of this ‘Alexamenos’?