De Profundis ~ from Georges Rouault’s series, ‘Miserere et Guerre’
In his fifty-eight print series titled Miserere et Guerre, the French Expressionist painter Georges Rouault struggled over a thirty-five year period with issues of faith, the suffering of Christ, and human cruelty.
A retrospective of Rouault’s work, “This Anguished World of Shadows,” was held in 2006 at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City. Writing about the exhibit, the Museum says:
The brutal, contemporary images of the series — which are, in part, a reaction to the almost unimaginable destruction in France during World War I — become even more poignant when one realizes that, by the time they were published, the artist had lived through World War II as well, and witnessed the almost total transformation of Europe and of French society.
Their ultimate message is a testament to Rouault’s overriding belief in the redemptive power of suffering.
The title of Plate 47, De Profundis, translates as “from the depths,” a phrase which serves to open Psalm 130, one of fifteen Songs of Ascents contained within the Old Testament. Ascension or pilgrimage songs (in Hebrew, Shirei ha Ma’alot) were sung on the occasion of the great feasts of pilgrimage: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. They first would have been sung on the way to Jerusalem: then, on the steps of the Temple. Today, The Psalm often is included in Christian Good Friday services.