The Resurrection, Cookham portrays the last day unfolding peacefully in the churchyard of the small Berkshire village that Stanley Spencer called home. No cataclysm here, just ‘the joy of the earth giving birth to joy’, Spencer wrote in a letter to Hilda Carline (1924), as people casually awake from death as if from a night’s sleep.
In the centre, a nude Spencer reclines against his tombstone next to his brother-in-law, Richard Carline, and behind lawyer Henry Slesser, a friend and patron. Two men nearby rise out from under hoods of earth, while a woman in a floral-patterned dress emerges through a parted sea of moon-daisies. To the right, women share notes left on their grave wreaths, while on the far left, the newly risen read their tombstone inscriptions with amusement. Others peek out over the edge of their coffins, or brush dirt clods from each other’s clothes. Spencer’s wife, Hilda, appears three times: clambering onto the deck of a Thames riverboat, sniffing a sunflower (while a prone, tweed-suited Spencer admires her), and lying on a nest of ivy.
The apex of this monumental painting is the rose-bowered porch, under which sits a matronly Christ holding three babies, his hair stroked by God the Father. Their presence is unassuming.
Arising to their new eternal state, the people in The Resurrection, Cookham could well exclaim along with Paul, ‘O death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55), and join in his gratitude. The law, whose tablets Moses displays from his open casket adjacent to the church porch, has no power to condemn (v.56), for Christ has fulfilled every jot and tittle, and these ordinary villagers reap the benefits.
The resurrection of the saints is a topic that fascinated Spencer, and he painted it many times, stressing the continuity between this world and the next. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the interwar period, who inclined toward cynicism or despair, Spencer maintained a profoundly hope-filled religiosity, delighting in the promise of salvation that he saw burning like Moses’s bush from every corner of daily life.
Spencer, Stanley. 1924. ‘Letter to Hilda Carline’, quoted in Stanley Spencer at War by Richard Carline (London: Faber & Faber, 1978)
http://www.stanleyspencer.co.uk/cookres.htm [accessed 14 October 2018]
Ibbett, Victoria. 2016. ‘The theme of resurrection in Stanley Spencer’s work, 28 March 2016’. Art UK. https://artuk.org/discover/stories/the-theme-of-resurrection-in-stanley-spencers-work [accessed 14 October 2018]
35 But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. 54When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.