Vincent Van Gogh — Man of Art, Man of Faith| National Catholic Registry


“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity above,” Van Gogh said. “So life seems almost enchanted after all.”

Artist Vincent Van Gogh seems to be on everyone’s mind these days.

In the United States and around the world, several “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibitions have offered art lovers a modern take on the artist’s familiar figure studies and fields of flowers. This new iteration of the artist’s masterpieces is a contemporary light show, filled with colorful imagery from “The Starry Night” and other familiar works that glide across walls, floors and ceilings. The art exhibition is accompanied by lilting music; in some places, the sensory experience is enhanced by floral scents and virtual reality headsets.

Also in the news: In September 2021, an unpublished Van Gogh sketch was exhibited in Amsterdam. Titled ‘Study for Worn Out’, the pencil drawing – which had been in a private collection for over a century – depicts an exhausted old man sitting slumped in a wooden chair with his head in his hands.

The artist’s brief career in ministry

Vincent Van Gogh was indeed a gifted artist; but he might not have taken up the brush at all had he not failed in his earlier career as a missionary. From his early years in a reformed Dutch house, Vincent had a fervent faith. Despite his failure in the entrance exam to the seminary, he embarked on his own in the ministry among the Belgian coal miners. Deeply touched by the miserable living conditions of the miners, Van Gogh gave them all his belongings, including most of his clothes.

But Van Gogh’s personal sacrifices did not impress the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church. On the contrary, they considered his overall generosity “strange” and even “excessive”. Just three years after he began his missionary journey, Van Gogh’s church hierarchy rejected him, challenging his overzealous gifts, inelegant manner of speaking, and poor clothing. In 1879, embittered by their cold reception, he left the church.

The Faith That Sustained the Post-Impressionist

But while no longer serving in public ministry, Vincent Van Gogh retained his deep faith. In a letter to his brother Théo, Vincent writes: “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help, I will get there. Despite being rejected by his own church, he clung to his connection with the Lord.

“One cannot do better, he wrote, than to cling to the thought of God through everything, in all circumstances, in all places, at all times, and to try to acquire more knowledge of Him. , what can be done from the Bible as well as from all other things.

Van Gogh took up the brush in order to celebrate God’s creation. And in fact, many of his works are decidedly spiritual – whether they are stories from the Bible or interpretations of the beauty of creation. Among his works are biblical scenes such as “The Good Samaritan”, “The Raising of Lazarus” and “The Sower”. In “The Angelus”, a painting by Van Gogh modeled after the work of artist Jean-François Millet, a farmer and his wife stand in the foreground, their heads bowed in prayer, a basket of potatoes at their feet. In the distance, a church steeple is clearly visible.

While some of Van Gogh’s works are personal interpretations of scripture, others are celebrations of beauty. Reflecting on his classic ‘The Starry Night’, the artist said, “Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity above. So life seems almost enchanted after all.

How Van Gogh’s faith was reshaped throughout his life is a topic of discussion. Christian writer Joseph Hartropp wrote of the artist:

Van Gogh was certainly religious, although his beliefs changed over time. …Vincent eventually came to see nature and human history as jointly symbolizing ‘God’. Not a definite god, but “something up there” – something that cannot be named. In fact, an extremely modern position for the time.

William Havlicek, author of Van Gogh’s Untold Journey, saw things differently. “Vincent was a very generous man,” Havlicek wrote. “He understood that God’s unconditional love extended to unconditional love for others. He would never recognize love that wasn’t an action.

Havlicek does not subscribe to the common narrative that portrays Van Gogh as mentally unstable and emotionally unfit. Instead, he describes him as “an unknown, adventurous, and deeply compassionate man whose essence seems to have been lost in the dramatic and often apocryphal stories surrounding his illness and untimely death. My effort is to resurrect an unknown aspect of Vincent – ​​an even heroic and certainly commendable aspect…”

Indeed, there is reason to consider Van Gogh as ambivalent. He once wrote: “For my part, I know nothing with certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.

On the other hand, in June 1888, he wrote to his friend Emile Bernard: “You do well to read the Bible. And why was that so important, in Vincent’s mind? Later in this long letter, he explained:

Christ alone, of all philosophers, magicians, etc., affirmed eternal life as the most important certainty, the infinity of time, the futility of death, the necessity and goal of serenity and devotion . He lived peacefully, as an artist greater than all other artists, despising marble, clay and paint, working in living flesh. In other words, this peerless artist, barely conceivable with the blunt instrument of our modern, nervous and obtuse brains, made neither statues, nor paintings, nor books. He argued bluntly that he had done… living men, immortal. This is a deeply serious matter, especially since it is the truth.

Not the words of a man who took God lightly.


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