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Art and the Church -> Materials for Use in Churches

Christmas - Egbert Modderman: Lodging Strangers

Frans Franciscus: Lodging Strangers

Egbert Modderman: Lodging Strangers, 2020, oil on canvas, Martinikerk Groningen, The Netherlands

This painting by the young Dutch artist Egbert Modderman has recently been installed in the Martinikerk in Groningen, a city in the north of the Netherlands. Modderman is currently engaged in making paintings to fill the six wide, shallow recesses at the back of the church with paintings of the works of mercy. The seventh canvas, elsewhere in the church, was the first one to materialize. It pictures St Martin, the saint who cut off half of his coat to warm a man numb with cold (clothing the naked). It makes sense for a church dedicated to St Martin to give a prominent place to the seven works of mercy, also because the many tourists visiting the church may be touched by their universal expressiveness.

The novelty in Modderman’s six paintings in the recesses is that he linked each work of mercy to a biblical story. In the painting shown here we see Joseph and a very pregnant Mary being offered a place for the night by a compassionate innkeeper. In each work in this series Modderman chose to portray the moment just before the miracle, here the moment before the miraculous human birth of the Son of God.

Even before he was born Jesus was the suffering Christ, the stranger for whom there was no room in the inn, dependent on the goodness of others. He and his mother with her heavy womb take the centre stage. Joseph tries to lighten Mary’s burden by – how clumsy – attempting to pull her cloak upwards. Have the contractions already started? Mary looks at us frightened and exhausted.

Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker