After our recent trip to London for my masters graduation, we took the train to Paris, and during our time in Paris we spent a day at the Louvre museum, which (along with the British Museum in London) is full of items of biblical relevance.
However, in the extensive Italian painters section, I came across several famous paintings which depict biblical scenes, albeit incorrectly.
The Wedding at Cana
This famous painting by Paolo Veronese is one of the highlights of the Louvre, and is held in the same room as the Mona Lisa. It depicts the famous scene from John 2 in which Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding in the town of Cana.
The only problem with this painting is that it is set not in a small Jewish village in Galilee, but in a large Greco-Roman city reminiscent of Athens. Cana was a small town, a village even, right north of the border between Samaria and the region of Galilee.
I like this painting though, especially how there’s a ton of interesting stuff going on in it, and Jesus is just chillin’ in the midst of it.
The Pilgrims at Emmaus
This is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels, and a key passage in understanding Christ-Centered hermeneutics, as Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, showing them how all of the things written in the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets (i.e. the entire Old Testament) was about him (see Luke 24:13-49)
However, you might notice the beautiful Alps in the background of this painting – which would make sense if Jesus had been in northern Italy rather than in Jerusalem. Apparently, although Titian was a great painter, he had never been to Israel, because then he would have known that there are no snow-capped mountains visible from the Judean desert near Jerusalem.
This is of course not to mention the anachronism of the servant’s clothes, which were not in style until at least 1000 years after the events recorded in Luke 24.
Saint Stephen Preaching in Jerusalem
This painting by the Italian master Carpaccio, is one of my favorites, because it shows that it’s possible to be good at painting, but bad at history.
It depicts the story found in Acts 7, in which Stephen, a deacon in the early church, preached to a crowd in Jerusalem right before they stoned him to death for his faith in Jesus, making him the first martyr of the Christian faith.
However, you might notice that Carpaccio’s depiction of Jerusalem has it filled with minarets: towers attached to mosques from which the Muslim call to prayer is heralded. Furthermore, notice the many people in turbans, the traditional dress of Muslim men in the Middle East.
At the time of Carpaccio, Jerusalem was indeed full of mosques and muslims. However, Islam wasn’t invented until over 600 years after the events which took place in Acts 7! In the 1st Century A.D. there were no muslims and no mosques in Jerusalem!
Sometimes people criticize Christian pop music and movies as being subpar, but these paintings show us that it is possible to make great art that is quite inaccurate from a biblical perspective.