The Calming of the Storm; the Devils are cast out and enter the Gadarene Swine, who are then drowned, from the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' by Unknown English artist

Unknown English artist

The Calming of the Storm; the Devils are cast out and enter the Gadarene Swine, who are then drowned, from the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book', c. 1327–35, Illumination on parchment, 285 x 210 mm, The British Library, London, Add MS 47682, fol. 24r, © The British Library Board (Add MS 47682, fol. 24)

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Hand of God

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This late medieval Anglo-Norman Bible depicts the Calming of the Storm at the top of the page and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1–20) below. The image of the Calming underscores the subtle intervention of the incarnate God-made-man.

The illumination can be read as a ‘moving picture’ (in Art History, a ‘synoptic narrative’), the story progressing from left to right. First, at left, Christ enters the boat in blue and red garments accompanied by two disciples. Christ is barefoot and bent forward, climbing into the vessel. His head is graced by a cruciform halo, underscoring his divinity.  

The first scene blends fluidly into the second, united by the boat occupying the bulk of the composition. Within the boat (in the second scene) Christ appears again, sleeping in the midst of his disciples. The ship is reminiscent of William the Conqueror’s eleventh-century kingly vessel the Mora (seen in the Bayeux Tapestry), built in the style of Viking longships, with striped sails and lion-like carved figureheads. Christ reclines at the stern surrounded by eight men, three of whom struggle to control the vessel. The large sail strains against the wind, ropes billowing as waves jostle below. Two sailors look towards the storm; the rest look to Jesus for deliverance. Jesus rests with his eyes closed and his arm folded under his head.

Blinded by fear, the disciples consider their Saviour indifferent (Mark 4:38–40). One disciple attempts to wake Jesus. It seems that Jesus slumbers on, but look closely: Christ intervenes, extending his left hand toward the waves below, in a gesture of benediction. The gentle hand of the God-man calms the turbulent seas.

Jesus hears the pleas of his terrified disciples and acts. He is not indifferent. When it may seem the Messiah sleeps, in fact, God speaks: ‘Peace, be still’ (Mark 4:39).


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