“I Found It”
Today I thought we would examine Rembrandt’s “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure” since the idea of what we treasure has been our text in church for the past couple of weeks. Rembrandt is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and even if you don’t know art, you’ve heard of Rembrandt.
The story he is illustrating here is found in Matthew 13 and tells how “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. The man, who finds it, buries it again; and so happy is he that he goes and sells everything he has, so that he may buy that field.”
In Rembrandt’s representation, the man has uncovered the goods and is now staring off into the horizon in contemplation and determination. It looks as if he is past the initial thrill of his find and has come to realize the magnitude of it. This is it! This is beyond valuable! He has found what he has been longing and looking for and it is so precious, he will sell all to acquire it.
Rembrandt is a great storyteller and he is not content with just portraying the narrative of the story. Clever hints bring about the deeper meaning. The city gate in the background shows us that the discovery is outside the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Rather than the traditional field, Rembrandt places the treasure in small cavern. Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb, perhaps similar to this cavern. In the lower left-hand corner, we see the plant acanthus. This is a common plant in the Mediterranean. Historically for Christians, acanthus’ thorny leaves represent pain, sin and punishment. It is also a symbol of enduring life, hinting to the fact that the treasure the man has found will endure forever. These hints, say those who know such things, point to the revelation that what the man has found is from Christ himself—the kingdom of God.
Art critics have argued that the face of the man is that of Rembrandt, who often painted himself into his own work (we talked about this on April 9). He was a man of many sorrows, having lost three out of his four children shortly after they were born. His wife passed away after only seven years of marriage and he struggled financially, declaring bankruptcy more than once. Perhaps because he knew great sorrow, he also knew how fleeting things of this life can be.
Being Human connection: Earthly treasures can never measure up to the treasure of knowing Jesus. Everything we possess pales in comparison to the promises we have in him.
Featured painting: “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure,” Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), Oil on panel, Executed in 1630, © Collection Esterházy, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest