John Piper on Domenico Feti’s “Ecce Homo”

December 18th, 2009 by Menachem Wecker

In his most recent talk on titled “At the Price of God’s Own Blood,” renowned pastor John Piper (of Desiring God) starts by discussing 18th century German Moravian bishop Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.

Piper speaks of von Zinzendorf’s trip to Dusseldorf, where he saw “Ecce Homo” by Italian painter Domenico Feti/Fetti. The inscription at the bottom of the painting, Piper says, is: “I have done this for you. What have you done for me?”

Von Zinzendorf said for the rest of his life, Piper says, that the experience of beholding Jesus’ suffering in that Feti painting changed his life (more on that here). He could no longer ever view himself as his own, Piper continues, but he had to ask whose he is, what did it cost to get him, and for what was he purchased.

This ties in to Piper’s larger message to his listeners, whom he encourages to think in these terms: “There is nothing that I want more in my life more than what Jesus bled to obtain.” It would be hard to argue that Piper is not supporting the sort of revelation-through-art that von Zinzendorf experienced. Powerful religious paintings can surely cause viewers to project themselves into the picture plane and imagine themselves participating in the religious scene.

Frankly, I’m not convinced the Feti painting is so powerful (I’m thinking of much better ones by Titian, Tintoretto, Memling, Rembrandt, Dürer, Bosch, etc.). But though I might judge the work as less successful artistically, it is hard to dispute its religious utility.

(Jewish readers may be interested in the last part of the sermon, where Piper recounts his recent discussion with a “Jewish rabbi” who told him that Christians owe Jews an apology for centuries of anti-Semitism. Piper agrees with the rabbi and says Jews are watching how Christians act, rather than listening to their words, however encouraging from an interfaith perspective.)

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