At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent van Gogh

Overview

Most scholars have argued that van Gogh was insane and that his religious life was a product of this madness - and was something he happily abandoned when he left the Christian ministry to pursue a career as an artist. This biography by Kathleen Powers Erickson is the first to demonstrate the falsehood of such assumptions and to argue that van Gogh's spiritual life was essential to the unfolding of his unique artistic vision. Basing her study on solid biographical evidence, van Gogh's personal correspondence, and...
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Overview

Most scholars have argued that van Gogh was insane and that his religious life was a product of this madness - and was something he happily abandoned when he left the Christian ministry to pursue a career as an artist. This biography by Kathleen Powers Erickson is the first to demonstrate the falsehood of such assumptions and to argue that van Gogh's spiritual life was essential to the unfolding of his unique artistic vision. Basing her study on solid biographical evidence, van Gogh's personal correspondence, and informed insight into the painter's artistic imagery, Erickson clearly traces van Gogh's pilgrimage of faith, from his early religious training, through his evangelical missionary period, to his struggle with religion and modern thought, and finally to the synthesis of traditional Christian beliefs with the modern world-view that he achieved in both his life and his art. Unique to this study is Erickson's in-depth examination of van Gogh's mental illness, culminating in her convincing argument that van Gogh's "insanity," long assumed - indeed mythologically contrived - to be schizophrenia, was in fact a psychological disorder resulting from a form of epilepsy. Erickson shows that this famous facet of van Gogh's life, too, was not without a spiritual dimension. In addition, the volume includes five black-and-white pictures of van Gogh and members of his family and a collection of seven black-and-white illustrations and twelve color plates that reproduce important pieces of van Gogh's artwork.
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Editorial Reviews

CBA Marketplace
Erickson reveals fascinating details about Vincent van Gogh.... Readers will glean powerful lessons from this intriguing book.
Cresset
Like so many others, Erickson cares passionately about van Gogh, and as a result, what emerges from At Eternity's Gate is a van Gogh who is more akin to us, and for that, even more tragic.
Theological Studies
Erickson's principal thesis is that van Gogh was motivated by deeply religious feelings throughout his life, and she demonstrates that he did not abandon his Christian sensibilities when he rejected the institutional church. In the first two chapters, Erickson successfully situates van Gogh in the theological setting of his family and describes his attempts at ministry by abundant reference to his letters as well as theological and historical works. After laying this contextual groundwork, she deals with his break with the institutional church but provides copious evidence in the form of his letters and early art works to demonstrate that he remained a person of religious faith throughout this tumultuous time. The last chapter is a cogent discussion of the effect of van Gogh's faith on his art works, and deals with many of the art works illustrated.
University Bookman
"As Erickson demonstrates, van Gogh's paintings cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing his distinctively Christian oeuvre. His many images of wheatfields, olive trees, reapers, sowers, and sunflowers; his persistent themes of suffering and redemption; his Pietà, Raising of Lazarus, and Good Samaritan—all of this takes on added significance when viewed in light of van Gogh's Christian faith, as Erickson's work allows us to do. This is the achievement of At Eternity's Gate—rather than repackaging van Gogh as a "Christian artist," it deepens our sense of wonder in the presence of his work."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Erickson's account of the spiritual dimensions of van Gogh's work is an important corrective to two widespread assumptions: first, that his background was theologically Calvinist; second, that he abandoned religion when he began his professional career as an artist. Drawing extensively on van Gogh's correspondence, Erickson argues convincingly that the so-called Groningen school--more Arminian than Calvinist--was the foundation for van Gogh's religious outlook and that his abandonment of institutional Christianity (precipitated by disillusionment with his uncle and theological mentor, Johannes Paulus Stricker) was not so much an abandonment of religion as a move to synthesize Christianity and modernity via mysticism. Her discussion of van Gogh's late work is particularly compelling in this regard. Erickson's diagnostic discussion of van Gogh's mental illness is intriguing, though such extended discussion of whether he was epileptic, bipolar, schizophrenic or a combination is more of a distraction than a contribution to artistic or religious appreciation of his work. This work is a lucid and accessible contribution to understanding the religious character of van Gogh's artistic vision. (Aug.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802838568
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 192
  • Lexile: 1400L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Table of Contents

"List of Illustrations and Color Plates
Foreword Martin E. Marty
Acknowledgments
Introduction
  1. The Faith of Our Fathers
  2. Pilgrims and Strangers
  3. Religion and Modernity
  4. Crisis
  5. At Eternity's Gate
Conclusion
Selected Bibliography
Index"
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2001

    Great Book!

    This book places the spiritual journey of Van Gogh in its proper context with his life's struggles. What began as a noble venture on his part to work with the poor as a minister turned into a distraught life filled with incredible creative energy. How? Eternity's Gate makes the connection. It is a great insight into the person of Van Gogh. May he rest in peace.

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