On the Peak of Perception
Commentary by Eunice Dauterman Maguire
We have beheld his glory…
The Gospel of John’s opening chapter connects the earthly Jesus with his heavenly identity, without naming all of the revelatory events the other Gospels describe. Though a prologue, it is a place where the Resurrection, like the Transfiguration, is already being made manifest.
One of these events—seeming to echo through John’s Prologue even though not explicitly included in his Gospel—tells of Jesus’s conversation, as a stranger, with the two disciples walking to Emmaus. Responding to their dismay about his death and their bafflement about reports of his resurrection, he rebukes them:
O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25)
Wearily, they persuade him to join them for supper when they reach the town. Albrecht Dürer places them with other strangers at an ordinary travellers’ supper table set with a white cloth, in a small room.
The disciples’ clothing is eloquent: the battered outdoor hat’s wide brim is a style that had become a signature for Christian pilgrims on the road. A coat, weatherproofed with a shoulder cape and a hood, is a common enough form of dress, although the hood had for centuries been part of monastic habits that originated even before the Benedictines adopted it, as a sign of Christian humility.
A white patch of light where the tablecloth hangs in the foreground draws attention to a triangular shape: the splayed table legs below the shining head of Jesus at the apex. There is only one glass on the table, prominently placed; transparently it shows in its base a strengthening feature of handblown drinking vessels, known in glassmaker’s terms as a conical kick, a mountain-shaped bulge rising inside the glass. With these mountain shapes, Dürer hints at a parallel between this revelation of Christ’s true identity, and the Transfiguration.
In visual confirmation of his companions’ sudden understanding, when Christ breaks the bread, bright light surrounds his head, shaping a cross at the top and shining downward toward their eyes below. His gaze has already left their company, and seems to be fixed somewhere beyond time. He radiates the glory of their perception, and of his destination, before he vanishes.
Schaff, Philip and Henry Wace (eds). 1980. ‘John Cassian: The Twelve Books Of John Cassian on the Institutes Of The Coenobia, and the Remedies for the Eight Principal Faults, Institutes I’, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)