The Eight Beatitudes


The eight pictures have all the same background colour: a mixture of yellow, brown and green which approaches the colour of gold. In all the pictures the figures are surrounded by a broad line. The line shows two colours: on the inside a violet one; framed by a red one. Traditionally the colours of heaven and earth. That line gives the impression that the pictures are connected by the same umbilical cord, stream of life. The eight pictures are almost so composed that one could place them one after another, connected by that stream. Where the stream ends on the foregoing picture, there it continues on the next one. Almost.

In all the pictures there are a man and a woman. She is clothed in a simple white dress; he in blue trousers and a red shirt. Except on the last picture.

1. Matthew 05,03:  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
                        the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.’
Man and woman are barefoot; in the history of religious art the sign that they go the way of Jesus. They have empty hands and are looking up. Waiting, desiring help from above?

2. Matthew 05,04:  ‘Blessed are the gentle:
                        they shall have the earth as inheritance.’
Man and woman still have empty hands. But in contrast with the first picture both figures are turned towards each other. The promise is made visible in the fruit which is given by the earth.

3. Matthew 05,05:  ‘Blessed are those who mourn:
                        they shall be comforted.’
The connection between the figures is still closer and more intense. They are united in grief because of a dead child. But notwithstanding death, according to the red-blue stream the connection between the couple and the child remains.

4. Matthew 05,06: ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness:
   They shall have their fill.’
Man and woman as always with empty hands. But at their feet a little child is playing with a snake as it is written in a prophecy of Isaiah about uprightness (11,08): ‘The infant will play over the den of an adder; the baby will put his hand into the viper’s lair.’ Here the kid and the snake are kissing each other!

5. Matthew 05,07:  ‘Blessed are the merciful:
   they shall have mercy shown them.’
Somebody is kneeling before the man and the woman. His head humbly bowed. Is he asking for forgiveness? The man and woman always have empty hands; their faces sorrowful. Accepting the apologies?

6. Matthew 05,08: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart:
   they shall see God.’
The man and woman have a friendly face. For the first time! Their pureness is expressed by the fact that the other man and woman (boy and girl) are naked. As man and woman were in paradise. Look at the green which is growing on the ground.

7. Matthew 05,09: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers:
   they shall be recognised as children of God.’
In the foreground an angry man (also in blue trousers and red shirt) and a sad woman (in a light blue dress) are separated from each other. In the background ‘our’ couple which tries to reconcile them with one another.

8. Matthew 05,10: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted
                               in the cause of uprightness:
                               the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.’
Now the man and woman are naked; without any protection. Surrounded by people who threaten them: with religious rules (left), with the law (middle behind), and with hatred (right).

Each of Jesus’ Beatitudes exists in two lines: the first one describes a human situation; the second one contains a promise. In all the paintings the first line is made visible; the promise not in every case. Unless we consider the red-violet stream and the golden background as a sign of the promise. The red-violet stream depicts the way these beatitudes are connected with each other. The golden background may depict the divine presence.

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J