Dance (Dance II) by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

Dance (Dance II), 1909–10, Oil on canvas, 260 x 391 cm, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; Entered the Hermitage in 1948, originally in the Sergei Shchukin collection, ГЭ-9673, Photo courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

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Joy Fulfilled

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

The French painter Henri Matisse (1869–1954) is often called a Painter of Paradise. The Dance (La Danse) is a paradisal scene of Eden restored in which four women and a man (freed of accoutrements in this return to innocence) perform a round dance with immense energy and vigour.

The energy of the dance is infectious. The circle is almost but not yet complete—two of the dancers are striving to link up—and the spectator is inevitably caught up in the dynamic of the lower figure’s leap as she tries to grasp the hand of the figure on her left. Each figure looks down and inwards in a self-contained way, but each is also caught up in the joyous and liberating enterprise of the dance. They offer themselves totally—mind, body and spirit—to the common purpose. The break in the circle may also be read as an invitation to the spectator—the figures are not excluding of any outsider.

In John 17:19 Jesus prays for the disciples: ‘I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth’. The purpose of Jesus’s ministry was not to establish an exclusive club but to communicate his identity with God the Father as widely as possible, to invite the whole world to consecrate itself single-mindedly to the truth of his identity, and thus to join in the perichoresis, the dynamic of mutual love, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann (b.1926) reads an ancient Easter homily as evoking the image of the risen Christ as the ‘leader of the mystic round-dance’ (Moltmann 1985: 307), with the church as the bride who dances with him.

This is a glorious scene, reminding us that glory is infectious: ‘The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one’ (v.22). In this image of diversity caught up in the unity of a common purpose we perhaps discover our own somatic response to God’s glory as we too are invited to shed our accoutrements, to consecrate ourselves to the truth, and to join in the dynamic and lyrical unity of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.



Moltmann, Jürgen. 1985. God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation, trans. by M. Kohl (London: SCM), citing Pseudo-Hippolytus. Cf. Giuseppe Visonà. 1988. In sanctum Pascha (Milan: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), pp. 315–16

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