How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isaiah 52:7)
|Feet from statue of Musician of Amun Tasherit-Khonsu, |
Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 332–30 B.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
There he is. Would you believe this painting was controversial? The monied family that paid the artist Caravaggio to paint it (Caravaggio, incidentally, is one of art history's most infamous rogues, getting kicked out of Rome after killing someone at a tennis match) HATED this painting when they saw it. Can you guess why? See the dirty peasant feet that jut out of the bottom of the painting towards you? That was just not up to their aristocratic tastes. (Incidentally, the nasty feet are right about at your eye level when you see the painting in Rome). Can you blame the stuffy richies? Yes, you can. Although they were looking for something a little more regal, probably more along the lines of the Roger van der Weyden altarpiece we looked at last week, they got a dash of realism, which, in my humble American opinion, is not bad. In fact, it's much more democratic, dramatic, and in keeping with the story of Jesus as the actual kind of man he was. As a proud American girl (who owns a modest 32 pairs of shoes but always opts to go barefoot if possible), I really appreciate Caravaggio including the common man and his common feet in this portrait. FYI, we also know that the patrons were double incensed by the lack of aura or glory around the Virgin and child-- for all we know, Caravaggio was painting some poor mom and kid off the streets, tsk tsk-- if you'll notice, only the faintest of halos, the duo's fine porcelain skin, and the step they stand on signify that they are holy beings, removed from the realm of dirt and grime and poverty literally beneath them. But, hey, Italian patrons, shove it! That was the whole point of Jesus, he loved everyone!
Ahem. I digress. The other thing I think is fascinating about this painting as I look at it is the line you can draw from the male peasant to Mary and Jesus; where do they come closest to meeting? Between baby Jesus' outstretched foot and the peasant's clasped hands and mouth. You can bet that Caravaggio understood the value of beautiful feet and was thinking about the gratitude of those who loved Jesus when he created this composition.
Now, I feel like mentioning the fact that I am NOT a foot fetishizer by any means, in fact I think they're funny and sometimes, on the wrong person, gross. But the more I thought about it yesterday, the more examples I could think of where the scriptures reference a person's feet in a sacred way, which made me appreciate them anew. Moses was instructed to remove his shoes as he stood before Jehovah on Mount Sinai. Nephite missionaries brought the plan of salvation to Lamanites who had no idea even what heaven was, and they fell down at their feet. We are instructed to be clothed in the armour of God, which includes having our feet shod with the gospel of peace. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples near the end of his life as a show of love, humility, and true charity. And finally, His own feet walked on water, carried him through crowds, were wetted with tears and covered with perfume by the adulterous woman, and today, bear the marks of his crucifixion and will someday cleve the Mount of Olives in two when he returns.
I think the literary, scriptural, and artistic value of feet lies in the very mundane fact that they are what keep us connected to the world, and allow us to travel throughout it. They are not beautiful in and of themselves (well, no, that's not true, I've seen cute feet before. But they're rare), but what they do, and what they can do (and how they look in heels), makes simply marvelous. How beautiful indeed.