Raymond Quinsac Monvoisin’s 1865 wood engraving of the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (after a sketch by Gustave Doré) arranges the composition as if the viewer is on the altar looking toward the two men. The viewer is in a position of judgment. We see Jesus and his disciples watching the event from just outside the door. The Pharisee stands erect with his hands clasped in front of him. The tax collector bows down and kneels on his mat with arms wide, offering himself to God. His body language reflects his abject humility before God. Of course, it would be inappropriate to generalize from the parable that all Pharisees in Jesus’ day displayed such self-righteous piety. While some of those in Jesus’ audience who looked with contempt on others were most likely Pharisees (18:9; cf. 15:2), surely not all of them were. Luke knew also of genuinely pious religious authorities (cf. Luke 23:50–51; Acts 5:34). Nor did all tax collectors share this one’s sense of remorse (cf. Luke 5:30). Jesus’ final message summarizes the parable: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This mosaic depicting Christ healing the ten lepers (Luke 17:11–19) decorates the Monreale Cathedral in Sicily. The church features some of the largest and most important Greek mosaics of the twelfth century, including a Life of Christ that is dominated by images depicting Jesus’ miracles. In Christ’s encounter with the lepers, the apostles seem less than pleased. The lepers are covered in dark spots, the conventional markers of leprosy in art (which apparently originated in earlier images of Job), and they are shown gesturing frantically to gain Jesus’ attention.
This life-size marble sculpture was originally intended for the campanile, the bell tower adjacent to the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence. It was part of a series of works featuring 16 Old Testament prophets. Nine were sculpted in the medieval period. Donatello and Nanni di Banco completed the remaining seven as a commission for the Opera del Duomo. The prophets, placed in niches, needed dramatic expressions that could be seen by observers at least 60 feet below. Jeremiah is depicted as middle aged and sorrowful. The psychological intensity of his life’s trials—imprisonment, betrayal, persecution—are manifest in his misshapen head. Jeremiah looks downward, demanding the repentance commanded by his message. The original sculpture is preserved in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and a copy is in the niche on the campanile.
The vanitas tradition in 17th-century Dutch still-life painting draws inspiration from the Vulgate version of Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas” [“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”]. The Latin vanitas means “emptiness” or “futility” and was used to render the Hebrew term hebel, which primarily means “vapor” and refers to that which is fleeting and perishable (Ps. 62:9, 144:4). In this painting, Pieter Claesz, a German-born painter based in Haarlem, depicts human mortality with a skull and bone. The table is cluttered with other items suggesting transience and the futility of human pursuits. Along with an overturned chalice, there is a timepiece, a writer’s quill, and a music manuscript. The smoke is an especially poignant symbol of ephemerality. The impermanence of human existence underscores human dependence on a sovereign and eternal God.