Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Mediterranean Sea Coast 1890

Levitan completed this painting of the Mediterranean Sea Coast in 1890 while traveling in the South of France. He takes delight in the sea's ranks of color and the wet beach covered with pebbles and shells. For his association with Levitan's work, the great Russian opera basso wrote:

"It has brought me to the realization that the most important thing in art is this feeling, this spirit, this prophetic word that sets people's hearts on fire and this prophetic word can be expressed not only in speech and gesture but also in line and color."  Fyodor Shalyapin (1873-1938)

Shalyapin is bold in twice using the phrase prophetic word, which is a reference to God's active presence: standing before these paintings we might experience something of God.

The word "sea" appears for the first time in Genesis 1:9,10. It is day three of creation. 

And now God said, Let the waters below the vault collect into one place, to make dry land appear. And so it was done; the dry land God called Earth, and the water where it had collected, he called the Sea.

On day five, almost as a kind of creative after-thought, God filled the sea with living things. The original Greek has the birds, like the fish, being created out of the sea itself.

But it isn't long before the whole thing seems to have taken a wrong turn and the sea becomes a place of terror where, like the desert, monsters are encountered. By the end of the bible we see this negative "take" fully expressed:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1

Here, the word sea is no longer a geographical place but is now symbolic of all the chaotic energies and forces set against God. In the end, that sea of chaotic, anti-God energies will be no more. Jesus knows. Maybe he didn't use the word sea so to stress that evil isn't somewhere out there, but up close and personal:

"Can't you see that nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean, because it goes not into he heart but into the stomach and passes into the sewer." And he went on "It is what comes out of someone that makes that person unclean. For it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean." Mark 7:21-23


  1. The sea has always brought me into an awareness of the limitless power of God. It brings a fear but also an invitation to come and enjoy this wonderful gift I have created for you. Shalyapin says it all for me. Through your articulate wording. This has been such a spiritual experience. It is a new experience for me but is having great results in my spiritual growth. Carry on!

  2. This seascape shows the power of the waves and the endless water contained in the oceans. I look at it and feel trepidation, not the calm that usually comes with these paintings. Maybe I see stormy seas on the way as evil lurks beneath the surface.

    1. See how we have a variety of responses to these paintings. There isn't a right way and a wrong way of seeing them. But if I may, don't run from your perception, but see if you can "name" what might be "lurking beneath the surface." Then you can pray. Archbishop Anthony Bloom says that we should never pray until we first feel something.

    2. I love reading everyone's thoughts here and the way they see the paintings. Such variety of the human mind. It tends to make me look at the painting in new light with each comment. Sometimes I feel the same and sometimes I don't and I know that is exactly what Levitan wanted of us.

    3. Ah! And if we looked again in a month or next year, we might respond in a very different way.

  3. Growing up by the beach, I spent many days playing in the surf and later admiring the beauty of the sea. Looking at at this picture, I can smell the salt in the air and hear the waves softly rolling up on the shore. Peaceful remembrances.

  4. Have you read Gifts of the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh? I read it in seminary years ago. It is a very wonderful, small book. It could be read in one or two sittings. Highly recommended.