16 March 2014

Art for Lent (12): ‘Christ Instructing Nicodemus,’
by Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (ca 1604-1645)

‘Christ Instructing Nicodemus,’ attributed to Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (ca 1604-1645), oil on panel, 87.5 x 111.4cm, sold by Sotheby’s, London, 1994

Patrick Comerford

This morning [16 March 2014] is the Second Sunday in Lent. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) provides two options for the Gospel reading: the first option, John 3: 1-17, is to be used only when Option A (Matthew 17: 1-19), the Transfiguration, has not been read on the Sunday before Lent; the second option is Matthew 17: 1-19, which is the Transfiguration.

The full set of Readings is: Genesis 12: 1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17; John 3: 1-17.

The Gospel reading, John 3: 1-17, contains two of the most oft-quoted passages in Saint John’s Gospel: ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or born again)’ (verse 5); and ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (verse 16).

Where this story is placed in Saint John’s Gospel is one of the keys to understanding it.

We have heard about the incarnation and the Word made flesh; Saint John the Baptist has borne witness to him as the Lamb of God; Christ has begun to gather his disciples as witnesses to him as the Messiah; the first sign, at the wedding in Cana, presupposes the transcendence of all the established religion of the day in the self-offering of the Lamb of God, symbolised in the Eucharist; and the cleansing of the Temple shows that the sacrificial system is being replaced by the one true sacrifice in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Now we have an encounter with someone whose immediate concerns are with the interpretation and the application of the law, for Nicodemus is both a Pharisee and a member of the ruling Sanhedrin.

And so, for a painting in my series of meditations on Art for Lent, I have chosen as this morning’s work of art the painting ‘Christ Instructing Nicodemus,’ which is attributed to Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (ca 1601/1604-1645).

This painting is oil on panel, and measures 92.5 x 125 cm. It was sold by Christie’s, London, in 2002 for £9,560.

Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn, who was born in Rotterdam ca 1601/1604, was a Dutch Golden Age painter.

According to the the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) in The Hague, he was a follower of Caravaggio and was known for his historical allegories.He was probably related to Pieter Crijnse Volmarijn, who became a pupil of his friend Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh.

Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn died in Rotterdam in 1645. His painting, ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ (1632), is in the Ferens Art Gallery in Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire.

Saint John’s Gospel is the only Gospel to tell the story of Nicodemus, although some commentators have tried to identify him also with the rich young ruler in Saint Mark’s Gospel (see Mark 10: 17 ff) or with other figures in the synoptic Gospels.

So what happened to Nicodemus?

And what makes this an appropriate Gospel reading at an early stage in Lent?

This is his first of three appearances in this Gospel. We shall meet him again when he states the law concerning the arrest of Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:45-51).

The third time follows the Crucifixion, when he helps Joseph of Arimathea in taking the body of Christ down from the cross before dark, and preparing the body for burial (John 19: 39-42).

Compare the unfolding faith of Nicodemus in these three encounters with the way Peter is going to deny Christ three times.

So, in this Gospel reading, in the story of Nicodemus, birth is linked with death, new birth is linked with new life, and before darkness falls he really comes to possess the Body of Christ, to hold the Body of Christ in his hands.

It is an appropriate Gospel reading for an early stage of Lent, as we prepare to recall the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.


Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
Grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things
as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

Creator of heaven and earth,
we thank you for these holy mysteries
given us by our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which we receive your grace
and are assured of your love,
which is through him now and for ever.

Tomorrow:Saint Patrick’ (1949) by Seamus Murphy

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