Advent offering 15 December

I’ve spent the morning researching the tradition of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) in literature, so thought I’d share an image drawn from one particular afterlife of this biblical story that particularly caught my eye. François-Nicolas Chifflart’s stunning painting La Conscience portrays a scene from Victor Hugo’s poem of the same name (read it here). The poem traces the long and desperate flight of Cain with his family after he has murdered his brother Abel; in particular, we see his fruitless and increasingly desperate attempts to  escape the wrath of the deity. Yet, despite  his best efforts, there will be no peace for Cain; for, he is followed wherever he goes by the ‘Eye of God’, its oppressive presence ensuring his continued torment and terror.  A symbol perhaps of his guilty conscience, the divine eye is even there after Cain seals himself in an underground tomb, “As a lone man within his sepulchre.” The tone of the poem is one of gut-gnawing anxiety, as we run alongside the increasingly desperate Cain on his search for asylum. And, going by the image Chifflart presents us with, we can all too easily understand his terror and, perhaps, even sympathise with him.

François-Nicolas Chifflart, La Conscience (1885)

2 thoughts on “Advent offering 15 December

  1. cedar51 December 18, 2014 / 7:39 am

    Not only is Cain taunted but the woman has it “heaped” upon her as well, as if the terror transfers over to all that come in contact with Cain. Even the landscape he stands on looks taunted and I guess the tomb cave he enters takes on a haunted and grey look…

    Then I start thinking about the artist, did he have a personal experience of this haunted and taunted world, to be able to paint such a scene leads me to think that. I just checked quickly other images and many of them are studies in similar tones, often chilling reminder of death and destruction and/or crowds of people….


  2. Caroline Blyth December 18, 2014 / 4:53 pm

    That’s so true – the terror Cain is experiencing seems to be contagious, even for the land he is seeking sanctuary in. I hope, for the artist’s sake, he didn’t experience anything quite as terrifying as the image he’s depicted here…


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