One art lover called this painting by Rembrandt “the coolest painting you’ll never see.” That is because it was stolen from the Boston Museum along with 12 other paintings in 1990. None of them have ever been recovered. If you go to the museum today, all you will see is the eerie sight of an empty frame which seems a little weird to me. But I understand.
The painting is called Storm on the Sea of Galilee and depicts the story from the New Testament where Jesus and his disciples are on the water when a violent storm arises. The disciples fear for their lives while Jesus sleeps. You can see them waking him up at the back of the boat as they desperately try to control the sails and keep the boat upright. One man in red is holding his forehead, seasick over the side of the boat (bottom right). I can imagine why!
Next to the seasick man is a self-portrait of Rembrandt. He almost always painted himself into the scenes he depicted. He is desperately holding on, one hand wrapped around a rope and the other hand securing his hat. His eyes meet ours. Have we, the viewer, been tossed about as he is?
Rembrandt knew a little bit about storms—not of weather but of life. He went through many personal upheavals: three of his four children died, then his wife, then his mother, and then he went bankrupt. He may be one of the greatest artists of history but his life was also among the most tumultuous.
As this biblical story continues, we learn Jesus rises, lifts his hands, and tells the wind and the waves to be still—and they are. The disciples wonder who this man could be. One of the beautiful aspects of this painting is that Rembrandt hints of the upcoming calm with the blue sky breaking through the ominous clouds in the upper left.
Maybe you’re going through some rough waters. Maybe you are metaphorically hanging over the edge of life, a little seasick from the upheavals. Maybe Rembrandt is giving you and me the message to hold on and don’t let go. Jesus is in the boat with you and in the midst of the storm says, “Peace, be still.” Calm blue skies are on their way.
Let me leave you with the lyrics from the hymn Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult:
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his voice invites me, saying “Christian, follow me!”
As the first disciples heard it by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred, leaving all for his dear sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying “Christian, love me more.”
In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love me more than these.”
Jesus calls us! In your mercy, Savior, help us hear your call;
give our hearts to your obedience, serve and love you best of all!
Featured art: Rembrandt, Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633