Grace in the Arts: Rembrandt Van Ryn: A Protestant Artist -- By: Arthur L. Farstad

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 06:1 (Spring 1993)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Rembrandt Van Ryn: A Protestant Artist
Author: Arthur L. Farstad

Grace in the Arts:
Rembrandt Van Ryn:
A Protestant Artist

Arthur L. Farstad

Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Dallas, Texas

I. Introduction

On the wall of my in-house office/library hangs a reproduction of a famous Christian painting. It has dramatic lighting—an almost theatrical triangle of light surrounded by great darkness. In the picture the dead body of our Lord is being taken down from the Cross by the loving hands of Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and a number of apostles. To the right a stricken Mary, looking like a middle-aged Dutch woman, perhaps the artist’s mother, is being comforted by another woman. This moving canvas is from the Widener collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is entitled “The Descent from the Cross,” a masterpiece by the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Ryn).1

Who was this Rembrandt van Ryn, and why should evangelicals take an interest in his work?

In 1991 the Atlanta Journal—Constitution had a fascinating article2 about an unusual art gallery in Greenville, South Carolina, at what is advertised as “The World’s Most Unusual University.” Bob Jones University is what most would call a fundamentalist school. No one, however, should think that it has low academic standards or is anti-cultural. The heavy emphasis on producing Shakespeare’s plays, the gallery of great religious art, as well as an exact replica of the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey3 tell us otherwise.

One thing nearly all of us Protestants who have visited this beautiful and well-presented gallery cannot help noticing is the heavy preponderance, not only of Roman Catholic artists, but also of specifically Catholic themes. Not merely biblical themes in which Mary appears, but exclusively Catholic doctrines lavishly illustrated in glowing blues, golds, and vermillions.4

When Bob Jones, Jr. was challenged with the question, “Why do you have so many Catholic pictures?,” his answer was, “There is not a lot of good Protestant painting… I had to buy Catholic pictures, despite the falsehoods in them.”5

There are many great Protestant artists when you consider all the Dutch, British, and American landscape, portrait, still life, and so-called “genre” paintings. But what Dr. Jones obviously meant is that there are not many Prot...

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