Sketch with bulls by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Sketch with bulls, 1946, Pen and ink, 210 x 350 mm, Private Collection, France, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artist's Rights Society (ARS), New York Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

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Litany of Life

Commentary by

Pablo Picasso demonstrated virtuosic skill in rendering the form of a bull multiple times through an economy of means—simple line drawings. On this sheet the image of the bull is highly simplified and viewed from every angle. Picasso’s studies demonstrate that these line drawings were carefully considered, painstakingly conceptualized, precise expressions of his thoughts.

Picasso cannot express his reflections on the bull—a subject that enthralled him for decades—in a single drawing. His ideas compel him to create a complex and diversified series. Likewise, God’s outline of the proper nature of divine–human and human–human relationships cannot be accomplished in one statement. It is important to note in this regard that the Ten Commandments are themselves a summary of the hundreds of specific statements about legal cases and the problematic situations of human interaction found in chapters 12–26 of Deuteronomy. And yet, even the Ten Commandments are further distilled into a single statement, with Deuteronomy 6:4–5 encapsulating all of God’s instructions in the call to ‘love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’.

Or, is it the other way around? In order to truly understand what constitutes a love that engages all of one’s mind, soul, and strength, must one take the time to expound its various dimensions? Perhaps one should read the Ten Commandments not as a convenient, memorable summary of the all too cumbersome legal material modern readers avoid in Deuteronomy 12–26, but as the first necessary step in an essential process whereby the outline form of love for God is joyfully, pleasantly, and affectionately given the complexity and texture of application into a litany of life situations.

Picasso remained fascinated with the bull throughout his career. It was an inexhaustible topic for him, which required a bounty of artistic responses in an attempt to capture a central idea. The Ten Commandments, and the other texts connected to them, suggest that the love of God will require equally sustained consideration and response.

 

References

Daix, Pierre. 1993. Picasso: Life and Art, trans. by Olivia Emmet (London: Thames and Hudson)

Richardson, John. 2009. A Life of Picasso, New Edition, 3 vols (London: Pimlico)

———. 2017. Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors (London: Rizzoli International Publications)


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