Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521)
Les quatre états de la société : l'homme misérable ou l'état de pauvreté
The four states of society: the man or the state of miserable poverty.
Paint and gilt on vellum parchment
17.4 x 13 cm
Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris
A pupil of the great Jean Fouquet, Bourdichon served four French monarchs: Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I
The depiction of poverty in art reflects how poverty is seen in society
There have been many studies on how different societies at different times have reacted to the poor in its midst
In 19th century France and Britain, the poor were criminalised. One sees this in the novels of Dickens as well as paintings such as this which depicts the operation of the Poor Law in France in the nineteenth century
Alfred Stevens 1823 - 1906
Ce qu'on appelle le vagabondage
Oil on canvas
172 cm x 205 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
The background to this picture can be read here
The poverty of Christ is the theme of the Pope`s Lenten message this year
"By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says “that by his poverty you might become rich”. This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase.
Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross.
God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety.
Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins.
In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery.
It is striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well aware of the “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8), that he is “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2).
So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25ff). What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love ...
In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it."