April 3, 2012

Van Gogh's “magnificat”

Vincent Van Gogh, "The Siesta"

I've been reading a little collection of Rainer Maria Rilke's letters [Letters on Cezanne] and at one point he describes his impressions of Vincent Van Gogh's painting. Rilke says that in Van Gogh: "...something of the spirit of Saint Francis was coming back to life...” He goes on to say: “in his paintings… poverty has already become rich: a great splendor from within."

In Luke’s gospel, Mary says this about her baby and about what her pregnancy might mean:
My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.

So here is Rilke suggesting, like Mary, that "the hungry" have been filled--that the poor have become rich, and that this has happened in Van Gogh's way of seeing the world.

Maybe Rilke, Van Gogh and Mary were looking in different places and seeing the same thing.

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