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Seeing Christ, Reading Nature

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Jan Swart van Groningen’s Christ in a Landscape in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

image of Nuncius

This paper provides a detailed interpretation of a little-known yet extraordinary painting from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Christ in a Landscape by Jan Swart van Groningen (ca. 1530–1540). This work is a perfect illustration of the importance of the popular Christian metaphor of the “Book of Nature” in early modern art, especially in the Reformed circles to which Swart likely belonged. Beyond offering an explanation for the presence of some strange aspects of the landscape (a snail, shells and colored pearls, unicorns, rocks with anthropomorphic features, etc.), the article explores the ways in which the elements of the landscape engaged the viewer in a hermeneutic process, a process of interpretation and reflection on the mysteries of nature and faith. The painting is a meditation on kenosis – the dual nature of Christ as both divine and human, and thus belonging to Nature just like the most insignificant of its creatures.

Affiliations: 1: University of Montréal


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