The Prophet Fed by a Raven by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

The Prophet Fed by a Raven, 2007, Oil on canvas, Collection of the artist, © Clive H. Jenkins; Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Elijah and the Raven

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The contemporary Welsh artist, Clive Hicks-Jenkins, was much inspired by the episode of Elijah fed by the ravens (1 Kings 17:1–7) and painted two different versions of it. His first encounter with the scene was when he saw it on a Renaissance altarpiece: the ‘Oxford Thebaid’—nine pieces of a fragmented mid-fifteenth-century Tuscan altarpiece held at Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford.

He has described how ‘as an unbeliever’, he was ‘smitten with the beauty of the story’. In particular, he was completely taken by the notion of the raven as an emissary of God delivering sustenance to the prophet. As a response to the Renaissance panel, he depicted the scene in contemporary terms.

In this version, Hicks-Jenkins portrays the prophet in modern-day casual dress, drinking tea from an earthenware cup and eating rough bread. He sets the scene against the backdrop of a Welsh hillside while a flaming-red angelic raven not only brings him food but even appears to act, empathetically, as his companion. In his representations of animals in stories with a biblical background, the artist emphasizes that the unusual behaviour of creatures is not simply due to an intervention from on high. Rather, he works from the perspective that the animals are acting from free will which, he argues, is even more compelling and miraculous an idea than having God make them behave against their natures. ‘By such means’ the artist has stated in conversation, ‘I try to find my way into these familiar stories so that I can explore and depict them anew’.

The artist’s distinctive representation of Elijah and the raven adds something new, fresh, and vibrant to the story’s traditional iconography: Hicks-Jenkins, with his keen sense of place, replaces the Wadi Cherith with a green vibrant Welsh hillside, while the dazzling colour of the raven, with wings almost on fire, invites the viewer to reflect on God’s unusual emissary, chosen from the natural world (later it will be an angel, from a supernatural world, who offers Elijah sustenance in 1 Kings 19:5). But, most importantly, the figure of Elijah in contemporary casual garb, evokes the Jewish–Christian interpretation of a prophet who never died and so is very likely to re-appear in any guise, any ethnicity, and in any place or age—here, in sombre mood on an obscure Welsh hillside.

 

References

O’Kane, Martin. 2018. ‘Painting the Prophet Elijah: The Artistic Appeal’, in The Cultural Reception of the Bible: Explorations in Theology, Literature, and the Arts, ed. by Salvador Ryan and Liam M. Tracey (Dublin: Four Courts Press), pp. 223–24


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