The Silent Power Of The Arts
( Originally Published 1896 )
To be taught by the silent power of the arts is something to be coveted. We have gone into famous sculpture and picture galleries, and had the highest and holiest feelings of our heart stirred. It is equivalent to hearing great sermons or reading great books. Do not pictures and illustrations in books of Bible history help people religiously and spiritually? Are not children often better taught the truths and facts of Scripture through the eye by pictures and even statuary than by printed letters? How many bad lessons have been conveyed by tbe pictorial art! How many minds of both young and old have been influenced to their injury by evil pictures and vile image! On the other hand, how many, too, have been benefited by good ones!
As there are many pure and instructive literary artists of the pen, so there are hosts of pure artists of the chisel and brush. Alexander Bida's magnificient pictorial designs illustrating scenes in the life of Christ. cannot fail to do great good. The beautiful story of the Gospel can hardly be told more effectively than by the artist's pencil. We believe that the preaching of the Gospel in the pulpit may be aided by art representations of Scriptnre facts, scenes, and spiritual truth. All of the fine arts, as sacred music, poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture may well be brought under tribute to religion.
Our best and most definite conceptions of many of the Scripture customs, manners, types, and metaphors, come often through illustrations made to the eye. Such impressions are apt to be the most permanent. Can we not recall many eye-scenes witnessed in our early life, though the words spoken at the time are all forgotten? Is not preaching to the eye as well as to the ear of ancient divine origin? Were not the great truths. of the Law and Gospel presented to the eyes of a nation "in sight of the people," and the people believed ?
Did God not illustrate his promise with a rainbow and the clouds as a background? Did He not say to Abraham: " Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, so shall thy seed be."
Pictures open men's ears wider to hear. Truth presented to both eye and ear has a wonderful freshness. and power. Who has not seen much truth that he has never heard with the ear, and will the powerful impression made ever be effaced? A minister testified that fifteen persons came forward for prayers at the close of the pictorial illustrations on the Dark Valley from Bunyan. Another pastor declared that after the same series of sacred scenes from Bunyan, in his church, a deep solemnity rested upon all the people, and seventeen decided to lead a new life.
A Philadelphia pastor said that one evening while holding before the eyes of a crowded audience the Bible pictorial emblems of the contrasts between the life that now is and that which is to come, his hearers seemed so overcome by the thought of eternity that thirteen spontaneously arose and came forward for prayer and a goodly number professed conversion. It is easy how-ever to overdo a good thing. A certain realistic pastor in New York, who has various devices for illustrating his discourses, one Sunday had a stuffed lion in his. pulpit with a roaring apparatus inside that sounded like a dull saw in a knotty board. Whereupon one of the secular editors ventured the prediction that when he comes to illustrate the text,-" Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth," he will probably burn his church down.
Hogarth, the painter, has been called the great moral preacher. He devoted himself chiefly to paint the misfortunes and crimes of private life and the vices and follies of his times. " He portrayed vice as leading to disgrace and misery, while he represented virtue as conducting to happiness and honor." A person of his day used to say that every merchant, shopkeeper, mechanic, and others who had youth in their employment ought to have some of Hogarth's prints framed and hung up for their admiration.
In a Berlin picture gallery may be seen a wonderful painting by Henneberg, called the " Pursuit of Pleasure." "A narrow path; PLEASURE, in the form of a beautiful maiden, casting loving glances behind her, and at the same time scattering money across the -dangerous pathway; the rider, a young man, whose horse tramples the figure of PURITY beneath its feet as it gallops madly on. Behind, on horseback, sits DEATH, gaining at every stride upon the infatuated youth."
That pictorial art can speak or teach more forcibly than tongue or pen, we have only to mention the names of Thomas Nast, Frank Beard and other cartoonists. The crayon of Nast in Harper's Weekly directed against ,certain corrupt rings and scheming, unscrupulous politicians, was a far mightier power than all the printed editorials and political speeches, and a terror to the evil doers. In the South Kensington Museum, London, we saw two large bronze groups - one representing Truth tearing the tongue out of the. mouth of Falsehood, and the other, Valor trampling Cowardice under foot. Each was a powerful moral sermon in itself.
We have seen pictures that made us hate slavery,. hate cruelty, hate whisky, hate political chicanery, hate evil as portrayed by the artist. Who has not been silently rebuked for some fault while looking at a-picture ? Many a drunkard has been startled, made ashamed, roused and turned about and started on the road to reform by some picture of the effects of drunkenness on a man or family. Like the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar's drunken feast, he has suddenly seen his own doom and the voice of conscience has said, "Weighed in the balance and found wanting." A little son of a poor widow was but eight years old at the time when a rich landlord oppressed his mother. He became an artist and painted a life-likeness of that dark scene of his youth. Though years. had passed, he placed the picture where the man saw it. His conscience smote him. He turned pale and trembled, and offered a large sum to purchase it that he might remove it out of sight.
The strong effect of pictures on the mind is undeniable. Alexander the Great trembled and paled at seeing a picture of Palamedes betrayed to death by his friends.. Why? Because it stung him with the remembrance of his own cruel treatment of Aristonicus. "An Athenian. courtesan, in the midst of a riotous banquet with her lovers, accidently cast her eye on the portrait of a. philosopher that hung opposite to her seat; the happy character of temperance and virtue struck her with so lively an image of her own unworthiness, that she instantly quitted the room, and retiring home, became-ever after an example of temperance, as she had before been of debauchery."
In the year 854 A. D., Methodius, a pagan painter of Constantinople, was invited by the king of the Bulgarians to decorate a banqueting hall in his palace. The artist was pursuaded by the king's sister who had become a convert to the Greek church, to paint on the walls the Last Judgment. He is said to have succeeded in depicting the glories of the blessed and the pains of the damned in such a fearful manner, that the heathen king was induced in his terror to send for a bishop, and signify his willingness to unite with the Greek church; and the whole Bulgarian nation soon followed his example.
When Frances E. Willard was asked how she came to be a temperance worker, she wrote in reply: "The first thing I can remember concerning temperance is that in our dining-room at home in the old farm-house in Wisconsin, where I was reared, there hung upon the wall a Washingtonian pledge signed by my father, and representing in two pictures the difference between a pure and wholesome temperance home, and a dark, disorganized drunkard's household. In one everything was light and orderly, a gracious woman was spreading the evening meal; in the other a man disheveled and wretched was seated on a dilapidated chair with a bottle at his lips, the house looking more like a hovel than anything else, and the wife a picture of abject misery. The impression was then and there deeply engraved on my sensitive spirit that woman was a central figure in the happiness that resulted from temperance and the misery consequent upon the opposite."
A converted Indian woman whose consistent Christian life for years is vouched for by those who have known her, gives the following testimony: "Of all the saving and inspiring impulses of my girlhood, none were so powerful as that which came from an old, soiled copy of the Sunday School Advocate, printed many years ago. It was a Christmas number, and on its front page there was a picture of Mary and the angel. That picture and the story that came with it were cherished in my heart for years. They seemed to me like a tiny slice of heaven, and many and many a time they have stood between me and wrongdoing; they became, I believe, at length the means of my salvation."
Rev. Mr. Richardson, who has been for a long time a faithful missionary in Madegascar, revisited England a few years since, and in a public address, spoke of. the beginning of his purpose to be a missionary. When he was but seven years of age, he saw a picture in the Juvenile Missionary Magazine, representing the martyrdom of Christians in Madegascar, by suspending them over a high rock precipice by a rope, and after hanging there for a while, the rope was cut, letting the victims -fall to meet instant death. The picture with its story impressed the boy so deeply that he said to his teacher,
Oh! teacher, if ever I am a man, I will go and be a missionary there." Seventeen years afterwards, when his studies were finished, he was ready for service, and said, " Of course, I go to Madegascar, because that picture story made me a missionary."
We could cite many instances where most remarkable effects have been produced by vivid pictures. We fancied that we could almost hear the last trumpet sounding as we gazed in mute wonder at Angelo's masterpiece, " The Last Judgment," in the Roman Vatican - that storehouse of fine art. As we looked upon the original of Leonardo Da Vinci's " Last Supper," in Milan, we felt that we were fairly in the presence of Jesus the Master and could hear him say, "One of you shall betray me,"- that being the point of time the artist would depict in that wonderful scene.
At the Paris exposition there was a small oil painting, only a foot square, but one could never forget the lesson it taught at sight. It had the picture of a man, but more like a demon's face. It was labeled " Sowing the Tares." " As he sowed the tares, up came serpents and reptiles, and they were crawling up his body, and all around were woods with wolves and animals prowling in them." Alas! what -a sermon must the mere sight of such a picture preach to people who are making such a scene - sowing the tares, sowing to the flesh. How it must remind them that the reaping time is coming and that men will reap as they sow!
There is an old Dutch picture of a little child drop-ping a cherished toy from its hands. At first sight, you hardly understand the child's action, but as you look closer, you see at the corner of the picture a white dove winging its flight to the child's empty outstretched hands- a beautiful illustration of willingness to give up lower good for higher, and a readiness to let go of trifles and empty our hands of earth's glittering vanities-the moment we catch sight of the spiritual treasures and sweet doves of peace and promise with which heaven is-waiting to fill them.
What heart is so hard as not to be touched in viewing the beautiful tomb of the children of the French king, Charles VIII., at Tours? Aye, one's belief and hope of immortality aud expectation of meeting his darlings-again, are raised above the region of doubt as he is lifted heavenward in beholding these all-but breathing marble forms of little children singing among the angels now, while
" Cherubic legions guard them home,
Of one of Correggio's great paintings, a writer says that the children of Correggio "breathe and smile" with such a grace and truth that one cannot refrain from. smiling and enjoying one's self with them.
The influence of the great masters of art on humanity is immeasurable. Though Raphael lived four centuries ago, his refined and subtle influence is still largely shaping the life of the world. The length of the life of such mighty geniuses is now counted by centuries. They chose their themes and they wrought for eternity.
Of Raphael's pictures one says: " We follow them eagerly, we grieve, we hope, we despair, we rejoice with them. It is not possible that there will ever be a more lovely and lovable picture than the Madonna della Sedia of Raphael, in the Pitti gallery. We do not pause to consider if the Mary is more of a sultana than a Madonna; it is the great mother-love that permeates her whole being, and which goes out to the babe lying in such sweet security upon her knees, that draws out all of our love and sympathy. What purity of emotion it calls forth! what tender thoughts well up within as we stand before this glorious picture! Is it because all of Raphael's pictures are replete with indications of deep, profound sentiment that he is to-day the best beloved of all of the great masters of modern art?"
Raphael's immortal painting of The Transfiguration, in the Vatican, has been pronounced by the unqualified approbation of mankind to be the finest picture in the world. It is inimitable in design, composition, expression and grace. " The various emotions of human doubt, anxiety, and pity, exhibited in the different figures, present one of the most pathetic incidents ever conceived." Thus showing the power of a picture as a work of art to thrill the human heart and elevate the soul to sublimer thoughts.
Under the hand of the great masters the marble and canvas have been made to express attributes fairly divine. They have depicted joy and anguish, the sublime and majestic, as well as sentiments of tenderness, benignity, and grace. May not all of the Christian virtues,-patience, love, courage, faith, hope, be expressed in art?