Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Lake 1900

This painting was never finished before Levitan died in 1900. It's a monumental work summarizing everything Levitan loves about his land: its great expanses of earth and sky, the procession of clouds, wind, light and shadow, the reflective waters, small villages with their churches, well-tended fields and grassy shorelines. Saint Paul writes:

My brothers and sisters, I need only add this. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on whatever is true and honourable and just and pure and lovely and admirable.  Philippians 4:8

I especially like that Levitan has allowed the breeze to stir up the water - perhaps reflective of a stirred up imagination. I was taught to fear imagination, as it might be a doorway to sin. That seems so wrong-headed and strange to me now; so distrustful of the God of grace. Imagination is one of the ways we've been made in the image and likeness of God.  

Every period of history carries its own sad tale and our day is no exception: these are troubling times. This great painting is Levitan's last gift to us: the cloud-laden, alive, blue sky which could go on forever, is a call to optimism and peace.

Notice too that while the landscape is wide and deep, the three churches pop out in white, one near and the other two farther away. The message is not that they are the place of spirit-life, but that they are part of nature's spirit, which God imagined from the start and for our delight and benefit.


  1. There is a dark shadow encroaching upon the bright white church. Darkness on the edge signifying evil to come or something which will strike fear in our hearts. Oh God, let the brightness surrounding the shadows fill me up and protect me from the shadows which lurk inside me before they swallow me up and drag me into the darkness forever.

  2. Levitan painted this scene 17 years before the Russian Revolution which began the systematic dissolution of the Church. In our own time, a great cloud has over-shadowed the Church. But biblically, a shadow is a symbol of God's protective love. God's over-shadowing.

  3. This is a beautiful painting which brings different feelings to us individually. The image of the lake strikes a chord of fear. Lakes are still waters that can become dangerous when the silt is churned up and the waters become murky, often clouding our vision, even striking us blind and grasping up for light. The stirring of the water brings this to my mind.

  4. What a wonderful feeling this painting gives me. A feeling of how generous God is, an invite to experience all His powers of creativity. Isaac must have known what was coming. He left a map for us to explore.

  5. Imagination allows us to believe in the things we cannot see. It helps us to have faith in the unknown. It helps us to be strong enough to overcome hard times.