SARAH the MATRIARCH
DRAWING by DANIEL MITSUI
This is an ink drawing on calfskin vellum. I drew it using calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.
The original was created on private commission.
It depicts an event told in the Book of Genesis:
And the Lord appeared to [Abraham] in the vale of Mambre as he was sitting at the door of his tent, in the very heat of the day. And when he had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near him: and as soon as he saw them he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord, if I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away from Thy servant: But I will fetch a little water, and wash Ye Your feet, and rest Ye under the tree. And I will set a morsel of bread, and strengthen Ye your heart, afterwards You shall pass on: for therefore are You come aside to Your servant. And They said: Do as thou hast spoken.
In the foreground stands the laughing Sarah; the Hospitality of Abraham appears outside the tent. The words in blackletter are the annunciation that Sarah will bear a child. The three visitors are considered to be a living image of the Holy Trinity. The Biblical text strongly suggests this, and the idea is prominent in Greek patristics and iconography.
Abraham made haste into the tent to Sarah, and said to her: Make haste, temper together three measures of flour, and make cakes upon the hearth. And he himself ran to the herd, and took from thence a calf very tender and very good, and gave it to a young man who made haste and boiled it. He took also butter and milk, and the calf which he had boiled, and set before them. But he stood by them under the tree. And when They had eaten, They said to him: Where is Sarah thy wife? He answered: Lo, she is in the tent. And He said to him: I will return and come to thee at this time, life accompanying and Sarah thy wife shall have a son. Which when Sarah heard, she laughed behind the door of the tent.
Now they were both old, and far advanced in years, and it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. And she laughed secretly, saying: After I am grown old and my lord is an old man, shall I give myself to pleasure? And the Lord said to Abraham: Why did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I who am an old woman bear a child indeed? Is there any thing hard to God? According to appointment I will return to thee at this same time, life accompanying, and Sarah shall have a son.
I have been experimenting with ways of depicting the persons of the Holy Trinity that respect the idea of not giving a visible body to something non-incarnate or pre-incarnate. (I do think that the presentation of the Father as the Ancient of Days and the presentation the Holy Ghost as a dove are proper, as these Persons were seen in these forms, but I did not want to use them here.) I drew the bodies of the figures as empty outlines with the faces and hands as ghost images, achieved by drawing on the opposite side of the translucent calfskin. The details can be seen more clearly when the image is held up to a light. (These effects are not as apparent in the giclée print, which is printed on one side only).
I designed two damask patterns for the textiles that appear in the drawing: the one on the green cloth combines Northumbro-Irish knotwork (also present in the border) and pseudo-Arabic lettering that spells Amen Alleluia. The one on the rose-colored cloth depicts a peridexion tree (whose fruit attracts doves and whose shadow repels dragons, according to the Bestiary), a traditional symbol of the Trinity. I wrote the name Sarah in Latin letters designed to resemble Hebrew ones.
I have been developing a more precise symbolism of the astronomical bodies, that especially affects the manner in which I draw haloes. The Sun represents the New Testament, and thus figures of God, the Angels, John the Baptist and saints that died after Jesus Christ are depicted with gold haloes. The moon represents the Old Testament; figures of holy persons who died before Jesus Christ have haloes that resemble the moon.
I drew the original picture on a sheet of calfskin together with a picture of St. Elizabeth. For the giclée print (shown here), I separated the two images. The print measures 4 3/4" × 6 1/2".
An open-edition giclée print of this drawing is available for $29. You may use the button below to pay via PayPal, debit card or credit card. Be sure to confirm the shipping address.
Please note that the original drawing was made on calfskin vellum, which is not perfectly white, flat or homogenous. Natural variations in the color and thickness of the calfskin show up in the giclée print, especially in the outer borders. These are not smudges or printing errors, but part of the artwork itself.
See this page for additional ordering instructions and general information. If you want to pay via a check or money order, please e-mail me at danmitsui [at] hotmail [dot] com.