When his father died unexpectedly in 1885, a somber Vincent van Gogh decided to create a memorial to the Reverend Theodorus van Gogh. He placed his father’s heavy pulpit Bible on a cloth-covered table, set beside it a snuffed-out candle and small book, and then painted the scene.
As dark and somber as the artist’s mood, Vincent’s still life seems a simple and direct tribute to his father. But is there more to this image?
I believe that Vincent’s Still Life with Bible also reveals the artist’s personal religious philosophy. It illustrates how Vincent, himself a failed minister, used his paintings to interpret the Bible. As Vincent later wrote: “To try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces…leads to God; one man wrote or told it in a book, another in a picture.”1