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Jesus at The Festival of Shelters (Feast of Tabernacles)

20th Century
144 x 132 in. (365.8 x 335.3 cm)

Bo Bartlett, American, b. 1955

Object Type: PAINTINGS
Creation Place: North America
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Gift of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Kensington, Philadelphia (Episcopal Diocese of PA)
Accession Number: 88-P-351
This large panel painted for the sanctuary of the former St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Kensington represents a passage from St. John’s Gospel (VII: 1-44) in which Christ visits Jerusalem during the last Jewish festival of the calendar year, the Feast of Tabernacles or Shelters. Here the artist interprets the biblical story in contemporary terms, including painted portraits of St. Luke’s former pastor, the Reverend Clifford Cutler, and several parishioners. As in Cratermen, the background depicts an area in Philadelphia around Eighth and Vine Streets, with the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral and the steeple of St. Michael’s Church (where La Salle College commenced in 1863). The figure of Christ, who stands on a mound of earth on the far right, is presented as an African American man, a modern rabbi, wearing a Roman clerical collar.

This rendering suggests the unity of our diverse humanity. The tents in the background refer to the shelters erected in the desert at the time of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, while the telephone poles evoke the cross. As in the biblical story of Jesus in the Temple, the people in the crowd here have varied reactions. Some are oblivious to Christ’s presence; others are doubtful; and a few already believe and commit themselves. Despite its complexity, the dynamic grouping of people is directed towards the elevated figure of Christ, isolated against a wide expanse of sky. He preaches amid a scene of industrial destruction, hopefully soon to be followed by renewal. The inclusion of a construction worker by the pool of water in the foreground (a self-portrait of the artist) refers to the words spoken by Christ in St. John’s Gospel (VII: 37-38), “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

About Triptych:
Three paintings by American artist Bo Bartlett, though created separately, were installed in the lobby of Olney Hall in fall 1989 as a three-part installation: Triptych, and still hang there today.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, Bartlett studied Old Master paintings in Florence, Italy before moving to Philadelphia in 1976. As a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts he received numerous awards and was taught and inspired by Philadelphia artists Sidney Goodman, Arthur DeCosta, and Morris Blackburn. He later apprenticed under the notable realist painter Nelson Shanks, and followed an anatomy class at The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Bartlett’s work recalls American realist traditions, as defined by artists such as Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth. The familiar subjects of home, family, and friends prevail in his dreamlike, hyper-realist canvases. The commonplace is raised to epic prominence as his monumental paintings subtly blend biblical, political, or social themes and imagery within contemporary settings. The viewer becomes intrigued, almost haunted, by Bartlett’s figures and symbolic situations which suggest tension, vulnerability, and the complexity and mystery of the human soul. The narrative content is often enigmatic, and Bartlett’s works may be interpreted in numerous ways.

Barlett’s work expresses his strong commitment to social justice, community engagement, and the transformative power of art. These paintings are well placed within our University, as an institution of higher education that seeks to impart secular knowledge and social involvement in an atmosphere that celebrates spiritual values.

See also:
Craterman:, and Exodus:
Current Location: Art Museum : Olney Hall, 1st Floor, Lobby


- Triptych, Curated by Caroline Wistar, La Salle University Art Museum, March 20th – May 31st, 1990.

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