St Mary’s Church Coddenham

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The Big Picture – Rev. Philip Payne

by | Jun 7, 2020 | Coddenham Church

Coddenham church

From The Rectory – 7 June – The Big Picture

One of the most well-known paintings in western art is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642). The picture depicts an Amsterdam Militia group and at over 4 metres wide and nearly as high, it is painting on a monumental scale. This painting is intended to be viewed from a distance. To take in the full sweep of a canvas this size, the viewer must stand well back. Once hung in a suitable space, much of the detail is well above eye level anyway. Yet for all that, Rembrandt’s masterpiece, and others like it, contain an astonishing level of fine detail.

The Night Watch is currently undergoing restoration and this work, aided by modern photo-technology, has revealed an amazing level of detail. ( For example, to put a glint in just one painted eye, a glint most viewers probably would never notice, Rembrandt used 4 different colours, 4 different brush strokes – a detail only visible with modern photographic techniques. The big picture we see and admire depends on detail so fine it goes largely unnoticed – until it is not there. Every fine brush stroke matters.

Sadly, I have never seen this Rembrandt masterpiece. However, the glorious sunny weather we have been enjoying has given me the opportunity to view the beauty of a different creation, one even more detailed, if less expensive. We humans may be on restricted movements but for the rest of creation life goes on as normal. Bees and other insects are searching for nectar, birds hunting insects and on it goes up and down the food-chain. One warm evening I glimpsed a hedgehog scurrying across the garden. The sheer volume and variety of the life I do see tells me that the Rectory Garden, and the farmland beyond, is teeming with life which, like a Rembrandt brush stroke, is invisible to the naked eye, yet essential to the finished work.

Unlike viewing an old master in the gallery, in the garden I am not a bystander, I am part of the creation. We are, all of us, a part of God’s living, breathing creation. At times it may feel as if we are the smallest of brush strokes in the great divine picture, but as Rembrandt’s masterpiece shows, every brush stroke matters.


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