Sunday, March 17, 2019

Isaiah 55.1-9: This is Not Bread

The prophet asks, "Why spend your money on things that aren't bread?" (Isaiah 55:1-9) Why spend your money on things that don't sustain life? Why exchange your work for things that don't satisfy? The world is full of things that look like they sustain life. There are many things for which we work that ultimately do not satisfy. But those things can be so attractive that we forget they aren't life-sustaining or ultimately satisfying. Dutch still life painters created an entire genre of paintings that model the prophet's question.

Seventeenth-century still life paintings show us beautiful arrangements of flowers, photorealistic depictions of silver goblets, blue and white Delftware and tablecloths that make us want to get out an iron and ironing board. There is lobster and bread, lemons and oysters, peaches and pastries. There are cherries, strawberries, bunches of grapes, and wheels of cheese. The food looks delectable. Good enough to eat, even 400 years later.
Clara Peeters. Still Life with Cheeses, Artichokes and Cherries. c. 1625. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Clara Peeters, the only Flemish woman artist known to have specialized in still life paintings, used mostly local foods - cheeses, artichokes, cherries, bread - in the work shown here. It might be an illustration for a local farmer's market or restaurant. It might be. But it isn't.

As are many still life paintings of this period, Peeter's painting is a reminder of the transience of the things of this world. The artichoke, sliced in half, is already starting to brown. The bread and cheese are sitting out getting hard and stale. One of the cherries has been eaten, the pit and stem lying on the table by the sliver of artichoke.

The food won't last. It will not ultimately satisfy. Eat this food, and you'll be hungry again. Why spend your money on things that aren't bread? Why exchange your labor for things that won't ultimately satisfy you? The prophet offers an alternative. Keep reading Isaiah and find out what it is.

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook...the generation of women artists who came after Clara Peeters.

For thoughts on Luke 13:1-9, click here.

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