The Paralytic Being Let into the Top of the House on his Bed by Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer

The Paralytic Being Let into the Top of the House on his Bed, c.1920, Oil on panel, 29.8 x 33 cm, Private collection, © Estate of Stanley Spencer / Bridgeman Images; Photo: © Peter Nahum at The Leicester Galleries, London / Bridgeman Images

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Filled with Awe

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Stanley Spencer had worked as a hospital orderly in Macedonia during the First World War and must have encountered soldiers paralysed in conflict. The paralysed man in this biblical narrative may therefore have put him in mind of his wartime experiences.

But Spencer sets the scene neither in Macedonia, nor in the biblical Capernaum, but in his home village of Cookham in Berkshire, England, which was the setting for many of the artist’s biblical paintings.

The house is that of Spencer’s next-door neighbours, and the ladders belong to a local builder (Christie’s: 1999). These real-life, local details embody the event in the artist’s own time and place. The Gospel narrative is not just something that happened in first-century Capernaum. It is a miracle that is relived in day-to-day village life.

As Mark describes, a crowd is spilling out of the house where Jesus is preaching (2:2). Jesus himself is not seen in this image because we are viewing the event from outside.

Closely following the narrative in Mark and Luke, Spencer depicts the paralysed man being lowered through a gap in the roof of the house.

Among the onlookers in this scene, some figures on the left are bending backwards to watch the precarious manoeuvre, and to the right, another figure views it from a tree. They are witnessing a feat of human ingenuity in the hoisting of the man through the roof, but a greater cause for amazement is about to occur inside.

This image is therefore one of anticipation and hope for the miraculous in this time and place.

 

References

Christie’s. 1999. ‘Lot Essay: Sir Stanley Spencer, R.A. (1891-1959), The Paralytic Being Let into the Top of the House on his Bed’, https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-1472090 [accessed 21 December 2020]

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