The Brow of the Hill near Nazareth by James Tissot

James Tissot

The Brow of the Hill near Nazareth (L'escarpement de Nazareth), 1886–96, Watercolour over graphite on paper, 214 x 133 mm, Brooklyn Museum; Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.72, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA / Bridgeman Images

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The Brow of the Hill

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
David Brown

In contrast to Matthew’s account of Jesus’s rejection at Nazareth, Luke’s divergences from Mark’s account are substantial.

One is a quite different narrative placement for the incident. Mark locates it in the middle of Jesus’s ministry, whereas Luke uses it to set the scene for the ministry as a whole, with Jesus using words drawn from Isaiah (Luke 4:18–19) to inaugurate his new role. Also, compared with Matthew and Mark, Luke’s account keeps family references to a mere ‘Is not this Joseph’s son? (Luke 4:22; contrast Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55–56). In their place comes a lengthy comparison with earlier treatments of the prophet Elijah (Luke 4:24–7). Finally, a dramatic conclusion is added (vv.29–30), in which the people attempt to kill Jesus by throwing him over a nearby hill.

James Tissot (1836–1902)—a French society painter who lived in London between 1871 and 1882—seems to refer to this last incident in this painting. Tissot experienced a dramatic visionary conversion in the Paris church of Saint-Sulplice in 1885 and painted over 350 small watercolours of the life of Christ over the course of the following decade. He exhibited these to great acclaim in Paris, London, and New York, and they were acquired just before the turn of the century by the newly opened Brooklyn Museum in New York. Two of these watercolours were devoted to Luke’s version of Jesus’s visit to the Nazareth synagogue. One shows Jesus’s unrolling of the scroll from which he will then read. This other one shows what ensues: his near lynching.

In The Brow of the Hill Tissot engages with Luke’s decision to conclude the story in this way. We may mistake the calmly meditative figure in the centre of the scene for Jesus, whom Tissot always dressed in white—but he is not. Rather, he is used as a foil to the crowd, who gesticulate madly at the mysterious escape of Jesus from their midst: in itself, its own kind of miracle.

 

References

Dolkart, Judith F. (ed.). 2009. James Tissot: The Life of Christ (New York: Merrell)