Water to wine: Anatomy of a biblical miracle at the wedding in Cana

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“Miracle of the Wine” by Herb Mandel, pen-and-ink with watercolor.

The subject of my drawings varies from day to day depending upon where I am and who I am with. For example, on this particular day I am with myself and my particular interest happens to be a story from the Bible. The story is exciting for me because it involves many people involved in actions and dialogue. The Bible doesn’t tell me where this event actually took place (reference John 2:1-12), except, in the town of Cana near Galilee, so I had to decide in my artistic imagination upon a logical arrangement to produce a large assemblage of people. Wine is being served by the wine steward and his helpers, so pictorially I plan to locate this activity in the foreground. The wedding couple and their parents along with important guests are also planned for the foreground and the dozens of other guests will be spread across the background. Jesus will be centered among these guests because he will be performing a miracle.

So this is the scene for the most part, as I saw it inspired by the scripture as it was written. This scene was then sketched in with pencil and then I began adding faces and gestures as they came to me using pen and ink.

As the story continues, Jesus, his mother, and a number of disciples while on the way to Galilee stopped by and were invited to join the wedding festivities. I arranged it so that a great tent was erected over the party area which centered around the young couple and their parents. All the people appear to be happy and gay and enjoying themselves when the wine steward discovered that the wine had been all but used up. He didn’t know what to do, but somehow the word was brought to Jesus’ mother that the wine was almost gone and the steward was at a loss for what to do. Jesus mother spoke quietly to her son and told him the situation and asked him to do something. At first, Jesus was reluctant to interfere but he finally sent word to the wine steward to pour water into the wine kegs. The wine steward then tasted the contents and, behold, it tasted like the best wine they had had all day. This, then, became the first sign of what was yet to come from the young Rabbi.

Once the layout for my drawing was determined, it was subject to modification as I inked it in, to give the people facial and body movement. In this case, I started with the wine steward and his helpers. This was the lifeblood area of the party and perhaps the key to making the picture work. The helpers had to show surprise by the change of water to wine. If you pick out the mama and papa of the newlyweds, they should be showing happiness for what was happening, but all the while the guests were totally unaware of the miracle that had taken place – until the wine steward’s helpers spread the word that it was Jesus who was responsible for making it all possible.

I finished the drawing in pen and ink but decided it was too colorful an occasion not to introduce color to this picture, so I use watercolor to enhance the otherwise black-and-white composition of the wedding feast. Some months later, I transposed the drawing to a 2’ x 4’ panel and painted it in oil.

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Screenshot 2020 04 25 at 12.33.09 PM 1Artist Herb Mandel wrote the above commentary on the biblical story of the wedding at Cana from the book of John in June of 2014. Mandel was an accomplished artist who died in 2016, leaving behind his life’s work, a large collection of paintings, etchings, sculpture and wood carvings, as well as several published books. He was an art educator and beloved father of Inklink publisher Carol Robidoux, who is always looking for ways to promote his art collection. She can be reached at carolrobidoux@manchesterinklink.com. Learn more about Mandel’s art here.

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