Friday, February 19, 2016

Happy end

This is one of the images I showed in the Job course on Wednesday (seventh of twelve). It's from the studio of James Jacques Joseph Tissot, possibly based on a sketch by Tissot himself, completed 1896-1902. What's going on? It's "Job joins his family in happiness," of course!

It's not a great painting, so it might just be that, but to all of us looking at it, it didn't look like a happy ending. Job, for one, just looks old and bitter. He's holding himself, not his new children; you get the sense he would be sitting there in exactly the same way even if he was alone. None of the people are really in the same space with each other, even where they are touching each other. Even the sleeping dogs seem exhausted rather than at peace.

To us today, the picture would be more satisfying if it this were what it intended to show. It would make sense for the two children leaning on Job to be looking for reassurance that they are safe, that they won't suffer the fate of Job's first brood, and for Job to be unwilling or unable to open his heart to them. I'm not sure this artist would have been capable of showing this even had he wanted to, though; maybe it's just a lousy picture. But how does one imagine the happiness of Job's continued life with a new family? Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, among others, thought that might be the book's greatest challenge of all. Perhaps Tissot himself would have succeeded, composing just this ambiguous scene so that through some other painterly magic - unavailable, alas, to the person who completed it - he could show the miraculous achievement of their true happiness together...

It certainly makes a contrast with this one, from the Free Bible Image series we narrated in the same class. There's family joy here and, for something which doesn't pretend to be great art, the suggestion of some depth; older Job's eyes appear to be shut: prayer, remembrance?

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