Friday, December 31, 2010

HCSBSB: Hezekiah's Tunnel

Well, I’ve mentioned my aversion to cutaway views before. This was actually one situation where a cutaway view would be really cool if someone could figure out how to pull it off, but I admit that I wasn’t up to it. (During my research, I actually did come across one or two attempts by other illustrators at a cutaway view, but they were not very successful in my opinion.) The difficulty is that the path of the tunnel—an engineering marvel of its day—is so circuitous that it practically defies representation in two dimensions. This would be a great project for a video-based or interactive virtual tour, and I’d love to see someone capable tackle that.

As it is, I used it as an opportunity to emphasize the growth of the city of Jerusalem from David’s time to Hezekiah’s with a dotted line representing the tunnel’s underground route beneath the Old City. This illustration appears on page 1183 of the HCSB Study Bible.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A God and Yet a Man

A god and yet a man?
   A maid and yet a mother?
Wit wonders what wit can
   Conceive this or the other.

A god and can he die?
   A dead man, can he live?
What wit can well reply?
   What reason reason give?

God, truth itself, doth teach it.
   Man’s wit sinks too far under
By reason’s power to reach it.
   Believe and leave to wonder.

—Anonymous Fifteenth Century Verse

Monday, December 20, 2010

HCSBSB: Solomon's Temple, Interior View

This interior view of Solomon’s Temple is featured, together with the exterior view featured previously, on page 706 of the HCSB Study Bible. The creative challenges posed here were the typical ones: imagining all the furnishings and the various motifs on the temple’s interior walls as they might have existed. Additionally, there were the technical challenges of rendering those same items in perspective, which becomes quite forced toward the outer edges of the picture plane, and also of conveying the desired lighting and atmosphere: a large interior space that was comparatively dark on the one hand (receiving light only from ten lamp stands and from high clerestory windows) and uniquely luminous on the other (the entire surface being covered with gold).

The walls of Solomon’s Temple were relief-sculpted with garden motifs as well as cherubim. (1Kg 6:18-29) This imagery is obviously intended to recall the Garden of Eden and the forbidden (or at least severely limited) access back into God’s presence which the temple and the high priest’s office symbolized. It was a big help to me—in fact it was virtually necessary—to work out an overall design schematically as a prelude to attempting a sketch for the three-dimensional rendering.

As we considered the influence of Egyptian aesthetics with the tabernacle, it seems reasonable here to assume a Phoenician influence, since we are told that Phoenician craftsmen were employed by Solomon in this enterprise. (The Phoenicians apparently borrowed from the Egyptians a good deal, so there is a high degree of continuity among some of their art forms, as the following examples attest. Cherubim and stylized “trees of life” were apparently common subjects in Phoenician art.)

A considerable interpretive challenge was posed in the rendering of the barrier that separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, which constitutes the central portion of the illustration. The difficulty arises from trying to harmonize the following textual details: There was a veil separating the two areas. (2Chr 3:14) Doors or gates are also mentioned (1Kg 6:31-35), as well as golden chains (1Kg 6:21). These details by themselves would seem to suggest a walled partition, with an entrance surrounded by doors, which when opened would reveal the veil and the chains stretched across to form an additional visual barrier. But we are also given the additional detail that the poles of the Ark of the Covenant (which rested in the center of the cube-shaped Holy of Holies, between two gigantic carved cherubim with outstretched wings) were at least partially visible from the Holy Place. (2Ch 5:7-9)

The consulting architect and I went back and forth several times trying to sort all of this out. Ultimately, the most satisfactory solution was to imagine the doors as serving a purely ceremonial function—attached to freestanding posts, without a wall on either side—with the chains stretched all the way across the barrier and with the veil covering most, but not quite all, of the remaining surface area. This configuration is at least plausible in that it “saves the phenomenon” by allowing the ends of the ark’s poles (which must have been somewhat less than 10 cubits in maximum length to allow for placement in the original tabernacle) to have been glimpsed on occasion from outside, say by a priest caring for one of the lamps at the western end of the Holy Place. (This also assumes that the ark is oriented trans-longitudinally, that is with poles running north to south, which isn’t spelled out either.) The following sketches work all of this out schematically.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

HCSBSB: Solomon's Temple, Exterior View

Well, this next one was a pretty big deal. This exterior view of Solomon’s Temple was to appear along with an interior view and a small schematic of the same for a combined full-page illustration in the HCSB Study Bible.

Back when I began working on the Mosaic Taberncale, I started some schematics on graph paper to help me keep track of the relative sizes of all of the various features and items, and I added to it as the project progressed up through Solomon’s Temple and finally to Herod’s Temple.

Here also, is one example of several early rough sketches I produced in trying to work out the best possible vantage point:

As mentioned in these posts before, recreating many of these structures accurately from the measurements and descriptions given in the texts (biblical as well as extra-biblical) is extremely difficult, if not impossible. There are just enough gaps and just enough ambiguity in the descriptions to leave a good deal open to interpretation. Most significantly, the height of Solomon’s Temple is a matter of considerable debate. (There is perhaps a textual variance between the measurements given in Kings and those recorded in Chronicles, but it is also suggested that the temple proper and its vestibule were of differing heights and that this somehow accounts for the differing figures in a way that isn’t clear.) Most scholars stick with the more conservative figure of 60 cubits (90') for the maximum overall height and dismiss the references to a height of twice that amount as either a manuscript error or an exaggeration, symbolically motivated or otherwise. The illustrations I produced here are in keeping with this lower estimation, but I’m not at all convinced that 120 cubits (180'), as depicted here, for example, is out of the question. Indeed, I find the idea appealing on a number of levels. (Josephus, at any rate, writing in the 1st century A.D., also apparently takes the height of Solomon’s original temple to have been 120 cubits. Perhaps more on that when we get to Herod’s Temple.)

The two bronze pillars (Jachin and Boaz—they actually had names), the massive bronze “sea” on the twelve oxens’ backs and the ten “water chariots” are all point of interest and appeal. I had a lot of fun imagining them. Below is a composite of several exploratory sketches for Jachin and Boaz. There is an incredibly rich amount of symbolism bound up in each of these items, and in the temple as a whole. I would highly recommend the writings of James Jordan and Peter Leithart in this regard, and I tried to incorporate many of the insights I’ve gained from them into these illustrations. (For just one tantalizing example, check out these brief comments from Leithart on the “water chariots” and the lampstands (“burning golden trees” as he poetically refers to them).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Michael Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning

If you’re looking to add to your own collection of Christmas music, there’s really nothing that I could recommend more highly. A copy of this CD came into my possession several years ago through slightly odd circumstances, and I could not be more thankful: over the course of the intervening years, this recording has grown so much in my affections that I would rate it not merely as my favorite Christmas album but one of my very favorite albums, period. Just read the consistently glowing reviews on and you’ll see that I’m not off on a tangent here. (Personally, one of the reasons I most look forward to Christmas is that I can play this recording without that tinge of self-reproach which haunts me during those moments when I can’t help sneaking in a listen here or there throughout the rest of the year.)

If I could try to pinpoint one possible reason for the strong appeal of this production, which is an attempt to recreate a Christmas Morning church service as it would have been celebrated in a large German congregation in the early 1600s, it would be its juxtaposition of the sort of tender delicacy which is more typically associated with traditional and liturgical Christmas music in our own age with a rather arrestingly wild exuberance—bombast even. This combination, which seems to be a particular gift of the Lutheran tradition, is uniquely moving in its ability to conjure up more-or-less simultaneously the sort of meditative reflection and ecstatic celebration that the Incarnation demands.

The performance captured here is reconstructed based on the work of Michael Praetorius—a towering figure in the German musical heritage, one of those giants upon whose shoulders Bach, who lived a century later, stood and upon whose foundation the latter composer was able to erect his own musical edifice, leaving a legacy that would make his a household name today. Recorded at Roskilde Cathedral in Denmark, this production wonderfully apprehends what director Paul McCreesh refers to in the liner notes as the “kaleidoscope of changing textures” envisioned by Praetorius’ arrangements and copious supplemental directions and suggestions for performance. The singers and players are divided into several groups and positioned at strategic points throughout the church, both on the ground level and high up in distant galleries, in some instances, with the robust contribution of a full congregation of singers to answer them. The solo voices shine brilliantly. The variety of period instruments—strings (plucked and bowed), reeds (including shawms and crumhorns), brass (trumpets and sackbuts), cabinet organs and harpsichords—make for a musical texture that is arresting and even charming in its lack of homogeneity, as compared with a modern orchestra. The texts, many of them based on quite ancient sources, are all in German with a good deal of Latin interspersed, a common practice in Lutheran churches of the period, but thorough translations are provided in the liner notes.

Of course, all this could easily sound like a real mess in the the wrong hands, but McCreesh does a masterful job of bringing it all together. The entire recording is captivating (even the more “mundane” sections where the priest intones the liturgy), though certain individual numbers shine with particular brilliance: the mystery-encloaked Processional Christum Wir Sollen Loben Schon (based on a 5th century Latin text, with German translation from the pen of Martin Luther himself), the dramatic Introit Puer Natus in Bethlehem, the Pulpit Hymn Quem Pastores Laudavere, and the Final Hymn Puer Nobis Nascitur. But the crowning achievement of it all is the closing Recessional, the familiar In Dulci Jubilo. I say “familiar”, though I promise you have never heard it performed like this before, and probably never will again—this side of heaven.