|Jonah Under His Gourd|
Marten van Hemmskerck, 1561
The Royal Collection
This Image and the detail below are
Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Marten van Heemskerck (1498-1574) created this work of oil on panel in around 1561. The biblical-themed piece was purchased by King Charles II from William Frizell in 1662 for 250 florins.
The painting depicts a moment from the story of Jonah (of Whale fame). The story recounts a time when Jonah was doing prophet-y stuff and warned the filthy, dirty, sinful citizens of Nineveh about an impending punishment because of their dirty, filthy, sinful ways. Well, the people got their act together and God said, “Eh, it’s okay. I won’t smite you today.” Well, good for Nineveh, but not so good for Jonah who just looked a fool and was very embarrassed about the whole thing. After all, he said there’d be smiting and no smiting occurred. And, so, it goes something like this:
‘And the Lord God prepared a gourd,’ the story continues, ‘and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief...But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die’. (Jonah 4: 6-8)
And, so, you see. When the gourd tree was taken away or eaten by big bible worms or whatever the hell, Jonah realized it had value. So, shouldn’t he also see the value of the citizens of the city? Well, yes. So, Jonah learned that he was wrong to wish the city destroyed just so he wouldn’t be embarrassed.
Van Heemskerck shows us the very moment “when the morning rose the next day.” He’s done a fine job of showing the time of day. The scene has a nifty misty quality to it—a characteristic of an early morning which will die to a hot, day. The artist sets a scene, however, of Sixteenth Century Rome as opposed to ancient Nineveh. This, however, was not uncommon for Renaissance artists who found that putting Biblical tales in contemporary settings helped communicate the story more clearly to those whose only encounters with these themes came from viewing such pieces of art.