Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

I’d like to dedicate this post to my father, who passed away earlier this week. He was a great Dad, and I will miss him. I had already been working on this for several weeks, but it seems a very appropriate painting for a man who was in the navy in WWII and went through the storms of many battles, as well as a gigantic typhoon that caused much damage to the American fleet in the Pacific.

Fighting Typhoon Cobra’s waves, public domain

With little warning Typhoon Cobra slammed into America’s third fleet in 1944. The fleet was involved in air raids against the Japanese in the Philippines, but it was Cobra’s 100 mph winds, high seas, and heavy rains that sank 3 destroyers, heavily damaged a number of other ships and aircraft, and drowned almost 800 men.

A poem written in the 1860s, and now known as the “Navy Hymn,” was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite and was sung at his funeral. It speaks about the dangers of the sea, and yet points us to God who is more powerful than the biggest storm.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633, by Rembrandt

Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, public domain

The storm on the Sea of Galilee had waves so high that both Matthew and Luke tell us about it. Matthew says, “…there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves….” There was no warning, and they were in great peril. Even those who had been fishermen were crying out in fear! In this large painting, measuring over 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, Rembrandt has caught the fury of that storm.

Rembrandt painted in the 1600s, during the Golden Age of Dutch Art. After nearly 50 years of persecution and war, the Dutch won political freedom from Spain and the right to practice their Protestant faith. The Dutch also had a world-wide trading empire, and, Amsterdam, where Rembrandt lived, was one of Europe’s busiest ports. The well-to-do middle class could buy furs from their American colony and silks from Asia. They bought so many paintings that they supported hundreds of artists, who specialized in landscapes, still lifes, or portraits.

Self- Portrait, Rembrandt, public domain

Rembrandt specialized in portraits, but he most loved to paint scenes from the Bible. Despite the fact that in Protestant Holland there was little market for these, Rembrandt made hundreds of paintings, drawings, and etchings of Bible scenes. Of these, this is his only seascape, painted when he was just 27.

The Painting
The Country School was a calm moment in time, but the action in The Storm on the Sea of Galilee practically breaks out of its frame. It’s like watching an exciting movie building toward its climax, with contrasting signs of danger and hope.    Find some contrasting signs and notice how they build tension, making you wonder if the men in the boat will survive.

Light and dark contrasts can also add to the drama. Rembrandt lights up the action of the waves and the disciples trying to hold the ripped sail, while he enfolds the less active stern in shadow. The clearing sky in the background contrasts with the menacing darkness in the foreground. Although Rembrandt is known for his deep shadows, they weren’t always as dark as we think. Varnish that had darkened over the years gave one of his most famous paintings the nickname, “The Nightwatch.” When it was cleaned people realized it wasn’t even a night scene!

Rembrandt creates activity with lots of curves and diagonals.

Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, public domain

Look at the curves of the sail ripping away from the mast, the wave reaching for the disciples, and the loose rope flying away on the wind. The boat rising up against the wave is a sharp diagonal that you can feel in the pit of your stomach, especially as you realize it must smack down on the other side! And all those ropes straining against the wind to hold the tilting mast add great tension.        How many other curves and diagonals you can find?

In contrast to all that frantic activity, Rembrandt has created an area of relative calm in the stern of the boat. He leads your attention there with ropes coming down from the mast, with the color red (just like Winslow Homer!), and the faces of the people there. Rembrandt specialized in portraits that revealed the character and thoughts of his sitters, and he’s done that here. Take some time to find and appreciate these miniature portraits by clicking on this link where you can enlarge the painting.

The disciple huddled in frozen fear
The disciple in red who is seasick
The stoic disciple steering the boat
The disciple holding his hat and looking out at the storm in awe (a self portrait of   Rembrandt, himself)
The frantic disciples waking Jesus and accusing Him of not caring if they perish

In the center of this group is Jesus, surrounded by a glow of light, and that spiritual light points us to how the drama will play out. It’s not the halo of earlier religious paintings, but Rembrandt, who was a Christian, always depicts Jesus with an inner or surrounding light to show that Jesus has life and light in Himself. Rembrandt clearly shows that neither the frantic activity in the front of the boat nor the hopeless fear in the back can save them; only the power of God can do that.


This painting and the Bible account it illustrates, certainly remind us of the power of God, and His presence with us through the storms of our lives, but I’m going to go a little different route because of the history of the painting itself.

The public has not seen this painting in 24 years! It was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston in 1990, part of the biggest art heist in U.S. history. Click on the link above to see the empty frames still hanging in the Gardner and other paintings stolen in that heist.

The robbers came in the middle of the night on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Only 2 security guards were on duty, and the thieves gained entrance by posing as policemen. They handcuffed and duct taped the guards in the basement, and using knives and hammers, cut  Storm on the Sea of Galilee and other paintings from their frames. In just a couple hours they were gone, and no one discovered the crime until the next morning.

Books have been written about the theft, and the FBI continues to follow up leads, but the frames at the Gardner still hang empty.

The world was shocked and saddened by the loss of this great painting and art lovers wonder if they’ll ever see it again. No leads have revealed where the paintings are, even though there is a 5 million dollar reward for information leading to their recovery in good condition. And their condition is an important concern; even if they are returned, what shape will they be in? Paintings, like all earthly things, deteriorate, so museum officials have pleaded with the robbers to keep the paintings in the right temperature and humidity.

Over 2 thousand years ago, Jesus was crucified, and His followers were shocked and saddened by His death. But after thinking they had lost him forever, they were amazed and overjoyed when He rose from the dead and met with them many times over the next 40 days. They were saddened again when Jesus ascended into heaven, but even though Jesus has left this earth temporarily, we have His promise that He who has life and light in Himself will return. Furthermore, while Jesus is gone we don’t have to worry about His condition—He has a resurrection body that will never decay, and we know right where He is—at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us.

The empty frames at the Gardner try to keep alive a hope for the return of some amazing paintings, but the empty tomb of Calvary is a sure hope of the return of our glorious Savior.

Here are some additional activities for this painting:
Which of the 12 disciples would you be most like? Why?
What would you see, hear, and feel if you were in this boat?  the yelling of the men, the screaming of the wind, your cold, wet clothing, the dark billowing clouds, etc.
Try imitating the facial expressions and postures of each person.

Don’t miss KathyThePictureLady’s next post.


The Country School by Winslow Homer

Before I get started with this first painting, let me thank all of you who have signed up to receive these posts. I am truly humbled by your interest and encouraging remarks!

Okay, so here we go!

Fall has officially arrived. Slower summer schedules have slid into days packed with work and family commitments. Daily conversations revolve around fitting it all in: “I have a meeting at 5. Can you take Sophie to the dentist and then help her with her homework?” And what about Saturdays? Once a day off for many; now we fit phone calls with clients around cheers at our children’s games.

As we try to juggle it all, we may be tempted to think of work as a bad thing that came along after mankind’s fall into sin—sort of like mosquitoes and head colds.

This painting, The Country School, by American artist, Winslow Homer, is fun to look at and can help us think about work from God’s perspective.


Homer painted The Country School in 1871, not long after the Civil War.

He had been a wartime artist/correspondent, and like most Americans, wanted to put the tragedies of war behind him, get back to normal life, and look ahead to the future.

Gathering Eggs by Winslow Homer, public domain

What better way than to show young people involved in everyday activities such as gathering eggs, and going to school? It was also at this time that Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott broke new ground for children’s books with Tom Sawyer and Little Women. Neither these stories nor Homer’s paintings are sentimental—they show things the way they were—barefeet, torn pants, and all. But they also show hope as young people engage in activities that will prepare them for the future.



The first thing to do with a painting is to look at it and decide what it’s about. Paintings such as this, of everyday life, or genre art, often capture a moment in time. It’s as if Homer has us standing just inside the doorway so we can look around.

Let’s do that. At first glance, we see light streaming in the windows of a one-room school house onto the desks of girls on one side and boys on the other, with a teacher in the center.

The Country School by Winslow Homer, public domain

Take your time. What’s with all that black in the center? The blackboard naturally draws our eyes. Because it frames the teacher, we notice this calm and serious young woman right away. Even though her dress is also black, her white apron and bright face make her stand out against the black. She is what is called the focal point of the painting, one of its most important parts.

But the teacher’s gaze quickly takes us to the boys, who are reading aloud. Many of us get nervous when we have to read aloud or speak in front of others, but these boys look relaxed and absorbed in their books.

Next, did the little girl’s red sweater catch your eye? Homer used red on purpose so your eyes don’t get “stuck” with the boys. He wants you to look around and notice other details. Artists often use bright colors in this way.

If you’re showing this to children, try these activities with them:

  • Go on a scavenger hunt now to find and think about these items:
    A straw hat; whose is it?
    4 slates; these look a little like modern tablets, don’t they?
    2 bunches of flowers; who probably picked these? Can you find the flower that has fallen on the floor?
    2 ink bottles; imagine having to write without a computer or even ballpoint pens!
    A Bible and a bell; There was a time when even public school teachers could read from the Bible in class!
    2 barefoot boys? A little boy who is crying?
  • Genre paintings are a slice of life and can spark stories. These questions may help:
    Why do you think the little boy is crying? Has he done something wrong or is this his first year of school?
    What is the little girl next to him thinking?
    What are the clothing and hairstyles of the girls? the boys?
    Why is the boy with the hole in his pants sitting so close to the teacher?
    What are some ways in which this classroom is like today’s? Different?
    What are some of the sounds you would hear in this classroom? Is it mostly quiet or loud?


The quiet, hardworking teacher and students in The Country School can help shine God’s light on our daily tasks. The Bible teaches that work isn’t something that only came along after mankind’s fall into sin. In fact, God started it all with His work of creation.

What did God do? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Gen. 1:1, and “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished… and on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done….” Genesis 2:1-2a. Creation was hard work, needing creativity and wisdom. Psalm 139 says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and so are all the creatures. Take just a few examples: penguins and pelicans—both have wings, but penguins “fly” under the water while pelicans skim above the waves. Or tigers and zebras—stripes help tigers blend in to stalk their prey, while stripes help zebras avoid becoming prey.

What is God still doing? God is continuing to work to uphold and care for us and His creation. In John 5:17 Jesus says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Hebrews 1:3 says, “…He [Christ] upholds the universe by the word of His power.”

What should we do? We are created in God’s image, and He created us to work to care for His creation. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” So work is not a result of the Fall, but something God has commanded us to do right from the beginning.

The tiredness we sometimes feel, the difficulty of the work, and the fact that it doesn’t always turn out as we want, are results of the Fall, but not work itself. See Gen. 3:17-19.

How does God help us with our work? In Ex. 35:30 Bezalel and Oholiab show us that God has created each of us with skills that we can use for Him. And though work is hard, God promises to help us. 1 Chron. 28:20.

How should we work? Col.3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

Hardworking ants In Prov. 6:6-8 encourage us to be diligent at our work, not quitting half way through.

As important as a good attitude about work is, can our work save us? No, only through God’s grace to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, can we be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Christ came to accomplish the work of salvation that we could not do. Use these questions and verses to think about this most important work and our response.

  • What work did Christ come to do? John 17:1-4
    What is our most important work? John 6:28-29
    What are we created to do? Ephes. 2:10
    What helps us to do good works? 2 Tim. 3:16-17

So though the Bible encourages us to work hard, despite the entanglements of sin and our imperfect results, it also teaches us that we can rest in our faith in Christ’s perfect and finished work for our salvation.

While The Country School is an oil painting, Homer was also a master of watercolors. This painting is in the St. Louis Art Museum, but you can see his paintings in museums all over the United States.

Don’t miss KathyThePictureLady’s next post, Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.