Thoughts on a Painting


The Neophyte, by Gustave Dore

I am not much of an art connoisseur. Sometimes I wish I was. There are some paintings, however, that do strike a chord with me. One of them is “The Neophyte” by Gustave Dore. I loved looking at it at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia. He did a number of etchings based on the character of Brother Angel from the 19th century novel, Spiridion by George Sand.

However, I am not worried about the character from the novel, but the image itself.

It shows a young man in a monastery with other monks who are much older and appear to be worn out or suffering. But there are still questions.

1. What is in the mind of the neophyte. Is he young and idealistic? Is he wise beyond his years? Is he arrogant?

2.  What is the nature of the other monks. Are they burned-out? Disillusioned?

3. What should we make of the contrast of the characters? One option is the neophyte foolishly optimistic surrounded by monks who have become disillusioned because they now see things “the way they really are.” Alternatively, the neophyte may see things the way they really are, while the others have “lost their first love.” Additionally, the neophytes look may show hubris that needs to be tempered with humility and patience, as seen with the other monks. And what do the old monks think of the young guy. Do they think him naive? Stupid? Does he remind them of themselves when they were young?

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I guess I can picture the Neophyte as John Mark from the Bible.

Act I: Young and idealistic, John Mark dove into a crazy mission adventure with more experienced and world-wise partners. As the mission continues, John Mark realizes that adventure is not always fun. It is hard work and potentially dangerous. Paul and Barnabbas were older, less excited, but more prepared for long-term challenges. John Mark dropped out.

Act II: John Mark, the neophyte, is growing up. Perhaps a bit less idealistic, but more determined, he is ready for a new mission trip. Barnabbas is willing to support him, but Paul, perhaps a bit grumpy, doesn’t have time for unreliable young kids.

Act III: John Mark, the neophyte, has grown up. Paul is now old, jailed, and somewhat depressed. John Mark is now recognized as strong, capable, and useful. He  supports Paul, Peter, and writes the Gospel of Mark.

I like to think of the man in the painting as John Mark, learning, making mistakes, growing, and becoming a great servant of God and supporter of the Apostles in their later years.  But there is no guarantee. He could become disillusioned, bitter, lazy, and unfaithful. Time will tell.

 

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