BERCHEM, Nicolaes
(b. 1620, Haarlem, d. 1683, Amsterdam)

Paul and Barnabas at Lystra

1650
Oil on canvas, 164 x 135 cm
Musée d'Art, Saint-Etienne

In the course of their missionary journeys the apostles Paul and Barnabas arrived at Lystra in Asia Minor. The pagan inhabitants, witnessing the miraculous cure of a cripple by Paul and Barnabas, believed that they were Mercury and Jupiter come to earth in human form. When the priest of the temple of Jupiter brought oxen and garlands to make a sacrifice the apostles rent their clothes in dismay. By their exhortations they prevented the sacrifice taking place.

In Berchem's painting the sacrificial ritual occupies the entire foreground of the painting. The fire burns on the altar emitting clouds of smoke. The priest and his stewards stand beside it, guarding a cow and a goat with garlands around their necks. The priest makes a proffering gesture to the two apostles, one of whom remonstrates with him, while the other rents his garments. They stand side by side on a high pedestal. Towering above the apostles on a far higher pedestal, in the form of a statue, sits astride his eagle, brandishing bolts of lightning.




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