Saturday, 12 April 2014

Art for Lent (39): ‘The Raising of Lazarus’
(ca 1310/1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1260-1318), Kimbell Art Museum

Patrick Comerford

This Saturday – the Saturday before Palm Sunday – is known traditionally in the Orthodox Church as Lazarus Saturday, and the appointed Gospel reading is the same as the reading in Revised Common Lectionary for last Sunday (6 April 2014): John 11: 1-45.

In the Orthodox Church, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday together hold a unique position as days of joy and triumph coming between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.

The theme of the raising of Lazarus dominates all Orthodox services on Lazarus Saturday, while at the same time looking forward to Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day. The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the raising of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ and as a promise of the General Resurrection. A number of the hymns, written in the first or second person, symbolically relate the death, burial and shroud of Lazarus to one’s own sinful state. Many of the hymns with Resurrection themes in a normal Sunday service that are omitted on Palm Sunday are chanted today on Lazarus Saturday.

Many Orthodox people abstain from meat and dairy products on Lazarus Saturday, although wine and oil are allowed, and special spice breads called Lazarakia are made in Greece and eaten. In Greece, it is a custom on Lazarus Saturday to make elaborate crosses out of palm leaves or olive branches that are then used the next day, Palm Sunday.

So, for my work of Art for Lent this morning (12 April 2014), I have chosen ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ by the Tuscan artist Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1260-1318), is regarded as the father of Sienese painting and one of the founders of Western art.

Duccio di Buoninsegna was born in Siena, where he worked in the late 13th and early 14th centuries on important works for government and religious buildings. However, only 13 or so works by Duccio survive to this day.

Although we know little about his early life and family, it seems he was married with seven children. He achieved fame as an artist in his own lifetime and became one of the most favoured and radical painters in Siena. Some art historians and critics suggest he travelled to Constantinople where he trained under a Byzantine master, and his painting style closely resembles the artwork of Byzantium.

This work, dating from ca 1310/1311, is in tempera and gold on panel and measures 43.5 x 46 cm. It is in the Kimbell Art Museum, Forth Worth, Texas.

On the bottom right of the painting we can see evidence of a fairly drastic change of mind by the artist. Originally the tomb was a horizontal sarcophagus placed at the foot of the hill on which Lazarus was probably sitting. The result was evidently not to the artist’s satisfaction and the sarcophagus was transformed into a sepulchre dug out of the rock. This change also affected the risen figure of Lazarus, so that as a consequence he assumes a peculiar oblique position.

The spontaneous gesture of the character sitting beside the open tomb and holding his nose is remarkably lifelike.

The canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete, chanted at Vespers the night before Lazarus Saturday, is also a preparation for Holy Week:

We have completed the forty days
that bring profit to our soul.
Now we ask you in your love for us:
Grant us also to behold the Holy Week
of your suffering and death,
so that in it we may glorify your mighty acts
and your purpose for us,
too great for words.
May we sing with one accord:
O Lord, glory be to you.


During the Divine Liturgy, the baptismal hymn, “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Romans 6: 3) is sung in place of the Trisagion. This may indicate that this was at one time a day traditionally for baptisms.

‘Come out, Lazar’ (Paul Spicer, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge)

I first became aware of this morning’s painting through the album cover for Paul Spicer’s Come out, Lazar, recorded in 2009 by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, directed by Sarah MacDonald, with Claire Innes-Hopkins on the organ (Regent Records, 2009, total playing time: 63’59”).

Paul Spicer began his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford. He studied with Herbert Howells and Richard Popplewell (organ) at the Royal College of Music in London, winning the Walford Davies Organ Prize in his final year. He now conducts the Chamber Choirs at the Royal College of Music in London, and the Birmingham Conservatoire, and is Professor of Choral Conducting at both institutions.

I first came across his work in Lichfield, where he has lived in The Close since 1990, and he was Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival for 11 years. His Easter Oratorio was commissioned for performance in Lichfield Cathedral in 2000, and the libretto was written by his close friend, the then Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Tom Wright, to mark the 1300th anniversary of Lichfield Cathedral. The Independent described it as “almost operatic in its inherent drama” and as being “a major contribution to the choral society repertoire.” He remains a member of the Council of Lichfield Cathedral.

The anthem Come out, Lazar is the title track and the most substantial work on the 2009 recording by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College. It is a dramatic, and almost apocalyptic, setting for mediaeval poetry, in this case an anonymous 14th century English text. It was commissioned by Ralph Allwood in 1984 for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast by the Uppingham Choral Course.

Spicer says he has always loved mediaeval poetry, and found a natural appeal in the poem Come out, Lazar (Lazarus). “It had everything I wanted for this commission.”

The anthem is basically in an ABACA form, with the B and C sections being reflective. It takes every opportunity to use the words descriptively. The final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

The words of this anonymous mediaeval poem are:

Come out, Lazar!
Come out, Lazaro, what so befall.
Then might not the fiend of hell
Longer make that soule to dwell.
So dreadful was that ilke cry
To that feloun, our enemy.
The kinges trumpet blew a blast;
Come out! it said, be not aghast.
With that voice the fiend gan quake,
As doth the leaf when windes wake.
Come out is now a wonder soun,
It hath o’er come that foul feloun
And all his careful [wretched] company.
For dread thereof they gunne cry;
Yet is come out a wonder song,
For it has broken the prison strong.
Fetters, chains, and bondes mo [besides]
That wroughten wretched soules woe.
That kinges voice so free
It maketh the devil and death to flee.
Say me now thou serpent sly,
Is not ‘Come out!’ an asper cry?
‘Come out’ is a word of battle,
For it gan helle soon [at once] t’assail.
Why stoppest thou not, fiend, thine ear?
That this word enter not there?
He that said that word of might,
Shop him felly to the fight. [Advanced valiantly to battle.]
For with that word he won the field
Withouten spear, withouten shield,
And brought them out of prison strong,
That were enholden there with wrong.
Tell now, tyrant, where is thy might?
‘Come out!’ hath felled it all with fight.

As we look towards Easter, it is worth noting how the final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

Notes produced five years ago by the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge for Choral Evensong on 12 May 2009 helpfully explain some of the more difficult or obscure vocabulary in this poem:

1 feloun: traitor
2 gan quake: quaked
3 wonder: wonderful
4 careful: wretched
5 gunne cry: cried
6 mo: besides
7 free: noble
8 asper: harsh
9 soon: at once
10 shop him felly to the fight: advanced valiantly to battle.

Tomorrow:Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson.

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