Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ezekiel 37.1-14: Bones and Sinews Waiting for Breath

Ezekiel 37 is a visually tempting passage. Just ask J.R.R. Tolkien (and Peter Jackson), who invented his own resurrected army of dead bones in Return of the King. Ezekiel also knows as he stands looking at an expanse of dry bones spread across the floor of  a valley. The idea that life can come from what is clearly lifeless is universally appealing.

Italian painter (and architect and inventor and civil engineer and sculptor and ninja turtle and...) Leonardo da Vinci captured the beauty and function of human bones and sinews in his many anatomy drawings. The importance of the figure in Renaissance art made an understanding of human anatomy a necessity for any artist. Leon Battista Alberti, a 15th-century art theorist, instructed artists that they should understand and paint the human figure as it is in nature: a skeleton and musculature that is covered with skin. For Alberti, drawing an external appearance was not enough. Artists needed to understand how the human body worked - bone to bone with connecting muscles.

Leonardo began his anatomy studies in service to his art, but the subject became a separate interest for him. Over several decades in Milan, Florence, and Pavia, he himself dissected more than two dozen corpses. He developed a process of illustration that represented the parts of the body in transparent layers so that the student could understand not just the look of various bones, muscles, and organs, but their function as part of the whole system of the body. Leonardo never published his anatomical drawings.
Leonardo da Vinci. (Left) Skeleton of the trunk and shoulder. Pen and brown ink with wash modeling over traces of black chalk. Royal Library, London, 19012R. (Right) The muscles of the right shoulder. Pen and brown ink with wash modeling over traces of black chalk. Royal Library, London, 19003V.
But no matter how beautiful, how useful, how instructive Leonardo's drawings are (and they are all three of those things), they can't match the amazing moment when God breathed the breath of life into the bones on that valley floor. Bare bones. Sinews on bones. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but what a moment when God breathes on us the breath of life!

For additional thoughts on Pentecost, click herehere or here.
For additional thoughts on Ezekiel and the valley of bones, click here.
For a variety of places to see vast collections of bones, visit the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page here.

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