Art is God's idea

Hendrik Werkman: The Sabbath of the Simplehearted

ArtWay Visual Meditation May 5, 2019

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman: The Sabbath of the Simplehearted

Celebrating the Sabbath

by José Verheule

If you want to experience something at its most profound, you can leave a lot out of the picture. ‘Less’ is often ‘more,’ as here in this print by Hendrik Werkman about the Sabbath. At first glance it seems a simple drawing, almost childlike: a lopsided table with a candlestick, behind the table a chair and in the foreground two dancing people. It is drawn with printer’s ink-rollers, for, apart from being an artist, Hendrik Werkman was also a printer.

He made this print to illustrate a Jewish Hasidic legend in a collection published in the middle of World War II by the clandestine publisher De Blauwe Schuit (The Blue Barge), which he, together with a few others, had started in resistance to the Nazi regime. It did cost him his life, because just before the end of the war he was arrested and executed by firing squad on 10th April 1945. This background of war and resistance gives extra weight to this depiction of the Sabbath. In such times of war, what is important is the essence of things and by way of this picture, Hendrik Werkman seeks to show what is essential in celebrating the Sabbath.

He does that by omitting a lot. The table is covered with a cloth, but there is no food – not even a glass of wine, nor the two Sabbath loaves that are supposed to be there as a reminder of the double portion of manna which God provided in the desert on the day before the Sabbath. As if that goes without saying. Or is there perhaps an allusion here to the food scarcity during the war?

However, included is the empty chair for Elijah, the prophet who announces the coming of the great Messianic Sabbath that is yet to come. The chair is also there for any unexpected guest who is welcome to join them. And in the middle of the table there is a large candlestick with three candles (one more than the compulsory two). Its light shines profusely: it fills the room and makes the shadows disappear under the table. It shines like the light of God that broke through the darkness on the first day of creation and desires to do that again every Sabbath.

That is why there is green in the air, the colour of new life. That green colour impregnates the woman in the foreground to the right, who takes the hand of the man, whose silhouette is still black from the burden and worries of life. Together they begin to dance! The shadow of sorrow and pain retreats under the table behind the man. Because of the lopsided table, the white cloth looks like a kind of veil that slides in front of it and covers the shadow.

Dancing together in the light of God: that is to celebrate the Sabbath. And God saw that it was good. Just as in the Gospel (Mark 2:23-3:6) Jesus sees that it is good for his disciples to be carefree and pick heads of grain, given by God, and just as Jesus sees that it is good to heal someone’s shriveled hand, so that this Sabbath will be the start of a new life.

Jesus is here following in the footsteps of Rabbi Hillel, who taught his disciples not to see the Sabbath as a brief period of rest for which you long the whole busy week, just as we do with those few weeks of holidays each year. Rabbi Hillel did not live towards the Sabbath but tried to live every day from out of the Sabbath, in order to make the days of the week lighter, because the rest and lightness of the Sabbath permeate those days as well. For he said: ‘This is why God gave humankind the day of the Sabbath when he created the world: to celebrate life.’

‘The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath,’ Jesus said. A man or woman does not work for six days in order to recover on the seventh day. A person needs a day of rest in order to see how life is meant to be, also during the other six days. Such a Sabbath day does not have to comply with all sorts of rules. Nothing much is compulsory on such a day. The main thing is that we are newly inspired and take this inspiration with us into the week.

According to the Rabbis people receive an ‘extra soul’ on the Sabbath: an ensoulment that comes into being when the light of God saturates us, as with the woman in the picture. The blackness of her worries and pain changes into a green inspiration for the coming week.


Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman: The Sabbath of the Simplehearted, Hasidic Legends II - 8, 1941, stencil, stamp on paper, 51 x 35 cm.

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945) is a Dutch artist who started his career as a printer. He owned his own printing business as of 1908. In 1917 he began to paint. At first Werkman painted directly from nature. He cherished great admiration for Vincent van Gogh, whose work he had already seen in 1896 at an exhibition in Groningen. Although Hendrik Werkman’s style is related to the expressionism of the Groningen artistic circle De Ploeg (The Plow), of which he became a member in 1920, his art does manifest a very original vision. In 1921 Werkman sold his printing business, which was not doing well. After that he had to print on hired machines. He produced the catalogues of De Ploeg and invented a new way of printing, the so-called ‘hot printing,’ whereby he made use of cut outs. Werkman usually worked in series, such as the hot printing series which he made between 1935 and 1937, wherein he developed a unique visual language. During the World War II Werkman distributed materials printed in De Blauwe Schuit (The Blue Barge) that called for resistance against the German occupier. Werkman was arrested and died in prison, just before the liberation in April 1945.

José Verheule is a theologian. She took early retirement after having worked as a minister in the PKN (Protestantse Kerk Nederland) in Zaandam. She leads church services in a care facility and teaches Dutch to refugees.



1. ARTWAY – New blog by Marianne Lettieri: Relics Reborn. Motivated by the complexities of contemporary culture many artists today explore time and place through their art, searching for a sense of locality and selfhood within the constant distractions of frenetic schedules, technology, globalization, and displacement. Visual artists who use saved and found objects in their work often rely on the metaphorical quality of the material to engage self-reflection about “What is it to exist?” and “How can we live better?” The ordinary artifacts that previous generations leave behind are evidence of how people organize their lives around daily tasks and routines. Items that show the patina of time and reveal the wear and tear of human interaction are carriers of personal and collective history. They are imbued with a physical sense of humanity that forms bridges to imagination. Through their selection and presentation artists may create platforms for conceptual analysis of time and place in the mind of the viewer. Read more

2. AWARD – 2nd Chaiya Art Awards Now Open – £10K TOP PRIZE! The biggest biennial art awards in the UK exploring spirituality and faith through art is now open for submissions. The Chaiya Art Awards is open to any artist and covers all mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, glass, textiles, mixed media, photography and video. We have also introduced an additional category for Community Groups, who can submit a collaborative piece.  Artists are invited to be authentic and daring as they respond to the theme. The winners exhibition will take place at London’s prestigious South Bank gallery@oxo from 10-19 April 2020. The first Chaiya Art Awards proved hugely popular, with over 450 entries and more than 2,700 exhibition visitors.  New to Chaiya 2020 will be an ‘affordable art fair’ over two days of the exhibition. We will invite artists in the exhibition to be present, to discuss, promote and sell their work. A respected panel will anonymously judge entries on Originality and Technical excellence, Theme Interpretation and Emotional Impact. Full details of the awards, theme, criteria, deadlines and how to enter, can be found at:

3. VENICE BIENNALE EXHIBITION EDMUND DE WAAL - 7 May – 29 September, Canton Scuola Synagogue, Calle Orto, 1191, Venice: Edmund de Waal, Psalm. British artist and author Edmund de Waal will be the first contemporary artist to create a major work for the Ghetto in Venice which will be unveiled during the preview week of the Venice Biennale, opening on 7th May 2019. The exhibition is called Psalm and will be in two parts. The first is located in the Canton Scuola, the beautiful 16th-century synagogue in the Ghetto Nuovo, which is now part of the Jewish Museum. New installations of porcelain, marble and gold will reflect the literary and musical heritage of this extraordinary place. For the first time the Women’s Gallery within the synagogue will hold contemporary art. The intention is to animate spaces that are little-known and little-understood by visitors to the Biennale and to bring new audiences into the Ghetto. The second part of the work will be a pavilion based at the Ateneo Veneto, the fifteenth-century building near the Fenice Opera House that has been an historic centre for cultural debate in Venice. Here Edmund de Waal is constructing a small building within the main space that will house 2000 books by exiled writers, from Ovid to the present day.

4. NEW BOOK - Anna Vind, (In)Visibility: Reflections upon Visibility and Transcendence in Theology, Philosophy and the Arts, (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). This book reconsiders the relation between visibility and transcendence, focusing particularly on the theological tradition in protestant Europe between the 16th and the 21st Centuries. In the book a thematically broad field is covered embracing more than five centuries and a plurality of methods drawn from theology, philosophy, and the history and theory of art.

5. GERMANY EXHIBITION STEPHAN BALKENHOL - 6 April – 14 July, Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Weinbergstraße 25, Kassel: Stephan Balkenhol. Der Bildhauer Stephan Balkenhol hat in seinem künstlerischen Schaffen bereits viele Skulpturen, Reliefs und Druckgraphiken geschaffen, in denen er sich mit dem Tod in symbolhafter Weise auseinandersetzt, im Knochenmann, in Serien von Schädelreliefs. Das Museum, das seit 1992 dem Themenspektrum Sterben, Tod, Bestatten, Trauer und Gedenken gewidmet ist, zeigt in Zusammenarbeit mit Stephan Balkenhol alte und neue Arbeiten zum Tod. Die offene und lichtdurchflutete Architektur des von Wilhelm Kücker entworfenen Museums schafft für die meist farbig gefassten Skulpturen besondere Raumsituationen. Di – So, 10 – 17 U (Mi bis 20 U).

6. GERMANY EXHIBITION JOHANNES SCHREITER - 24 March – 27 October, Glasmalereimuseum Linnich, Rurstraße 9, Linnich: Licht-Zeichen. Die Kunst von Johannes Schreiter. Als einer der namhaftesten Künstler und Lehrer seines Fachs hat Johannes Schreiter die Glasmalerei der Gegenwart - insbesondere die architekturgebundene - maßgeblich geprägt und weiterentwickelt. Professor Schreiter zeigte sich für Glasfenstergestaltungen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, in Frankreich, Wales, England, Schweden, Israel und den USA verantwortlich. Die Sonderausstellung präsentiert Werke von Schreiter aus der zweiten Hälfte des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts sowie einige seiner Glasbilder aus dem 21. Jahrhundert. Zur "Licht-Zeichen"-Ausstellung wird ein Begleitprogramm angeboten, das einen Vortrag, eine Exkursion und mehrere Workshops beinhaltet. Di – So, 11 – 17 U.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- May 2019: The Binchester Ring
- May 2019: Liviu Mocan: Archetypes
- April 2019: Harm Visser: As in my Soul
- April 2019: Giorgio Andreotta Calò: Αναστάσης
- April 2019: Ludger Hinse: Crosses of Light

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists