Some 15 years ago, my wife and I signed up for an unusual tour of the St. Louis Art Museum. Rory McClure, a student from Ireland studying at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, hosted an art tour seen through the eyes of faith. Not to press the metaphor too far, it was eye-opening.
Paintings we had previously considered for their beauty, subject matter, or technical skill became stories. McClure guided us in understanding not only the power of ideas in culture, but how those ideas were represented in art. It was a museum tour you wished would never end. It also changed how we understood art and prepared us for the many visits we’ve made to art museums since that time.
Russ Ramsey, a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., has done in book form what our Irish student did on the tour, and then some. The subtitle of his Rembrandt Is in the Wind tells the story: “Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith.”
Ramsey tells the stories of nine artists: Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Jean Frederic Bazille, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Edward Hopper, and Lilias Trotter. He provides the back story, but he usually focuses on a specific painting by each artist.
In the case of Rembrandt, for example, he discusses “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” It’s a wonderful painting, and it is indeed “Rembrandt in the wind,” as the title suggests. It was stolen with 12 other works in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The total value of the artwork involved exceeded $500 million; the paintings have never neem found. The museum has left the empty frame of the Rembrandt painting as a kind of memorial.
This is a discussion about art as only an art lover, and a man of faith, can have. Ramsey talks about art, the artist, faith, culture, and meaning. He tells some wonderful, and some agonizing, stories. In his hands, artists and paintings covering 400 years of Western culture come alive. And the book is a physically beautiful publication, a delight to read and just look at. (I have the limited Edition from The Rabbit Room, but it is also available from Amazon and other distributors.)
Ramsey is a pastor, author, and speaker. He’s previously published Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death, The Advent of the Lamb of God, The Passion of the King of Glory, and The Mission of the Body of Christ. A native of Indiana, he is a graduate of Taylor University and received his M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He lives in Nashville with his family.
Rembrandt Is in the Wind is a pure delight of a book. Well-researched, highly readable, and beautifully presented, it tells a story of art that informs, surprises, and resonates. I’d put in in my “top five books I’ve read this year” list.
Top painting: The Storm in the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn.