The washing of the feet
2004Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.40
The painting shows Jesus kneeling to wash the feet of the disciple Peter. This act of service is recorded only in the Fourth Gospel, occurring in the narrative at the point where the Synoptic Gospels have an account of the Last Supper.
The Methodist Collection has many works on the Passion Narrative but has not previously included an interpretation of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. The Trustees of the Collection approached Ghislaine Howard, an artist well known for her strong, physical portrayals of the human figure and for her ability to express the Christian faith in an imaginative and arresting way.
Having given her complete artistic freedom, the Trustees were delighted that the picture suggests the Middle Eastern origins of the Christian faith as reflected in the shape of the bowl and the warmth of the skin tones.
The importance of the event is conveyed by the classical and monumental style which echoes earlier interpretations of the theme. The dress is simple and workman-like; these two figure figures could be from any age and any country.
The simple, everyday of washing a guest's feet before offering hospitality becomes through the words and actions of Jesus a moment pregnant with significance.
'So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet'.
The figures are set against a rich green/blue background and completely dominate the composition. Their gestures and the rhythms of their bodies focus attention on the most crucial moment of the narrative.
Howard has mixed sand with the paint to creates a sculptural surface texture which serves to at once unify and heighten the intensity and intimacy of the scene. Here are two real figures each in their different ways reacting to one of the most poignant and moving episodes in the Gospels.
Ghislaine Howard is best known for her ground-breaking work on pregnancy and birth. A painter of powerful and expressive means, she has shown her large cycle of paintings, The Stations of the Cross / The Captive Figure to great acclaim at the two Liverpool Cathedrals, Canterbury Cathedral and Gloucester Cathedral.