Exhibition of Bible Illustrations by David Wansbrough

John Harrison

There is an exhibition on at the Bogolyubova library until June the 10th. It is a small, humble affair but that belies the strength and power of the works on display. These Illustrations are by David Wansbrough for a book by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple. David is a visiting (to Russia) Australian scholar, writer, and brilliant lecturer at ELE (English Language Evenings) and other hallowed Moscow venues, his illustrations display (once again) the multi-faceted nature of his talent.

The exhibition contains 30 line drawings. There are no labels underneath the frames explaining what is going on in each scene, but the episodes are familiar. Here you see Christ on a donkey entering Jerusalem, there you see episodes from the crucifixion with crosses implanted in a skull.  I knew what the scenes were depicted even though my knowledge of the bible is limited to say the least.

Many illustrators, consciously or unconsciously let their own personas, even likeness come through in their drawings. I did not sense that with any of the drawings that I saw in this exhibition. In this sense, David somehow seems to have ‘got into’ the scenes being portrayed without overstatement. There seems to be little exaggeration for effect, instead there are ample examples of intense psychological dialogue between people, surroundings, even folds of cloth. Of course there is exaggeration, for that is the art of the illustrator, he selects how to presents form for maximum effect. However this is done very well, displaying a technical ability to draw the human and animal forms on a high professional level. The effect is subtle, humble and powerful, I am sure that the drawings will augment the book that they are to illustrate wonderfully, and the works demonstrate just how hard David has been working to perfect his art; an endless task. One suspects that the illustrator himself, who is a Doctor of Theology, has some kind of deep insight into his subject matter. The choice of black and white line drawings, with a minimum of background clutter focuses attention on the subjects.

This exhibition is on until the 10thof June and is well worth a visit. Below is David’s own text about the exhibition.

A great scholar, Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, wrote from Israel with an unusual proposition. Would I illustrate his book? He had studied the New Testament from a Jewish perspective and found that perhaps his tradition knew more of the Biblical characters than Christians. For example, our Saint Peter is their Simon (who they say introduced monotheism to the world), whose two Sabbath prayers are recited in every synagogue. As I have no Jewish ancestry the manuscript amazed me. 

How could it be illustrated? Certainly not in the traditions of icons, or in a Roman Catholic renaissance style. Or as Protestant didacticism. I then read the Bible from a psychological standpoint and found deep insights. I am a colourist but the book needed line drawings. Without intending to offend or be blasphemous and because the story should be relevant I decided to let the profound psychological truths radiate from modern images. I would only look at the story as psychology. I would treat it as a subject for Art. In the process I discovered new levels of meaning. The narrative is universal and spiritual, but also holds true on the level of human reactions. And now I appreciate more the supreme artistry in the story episodes bordering the massive cathedral icons of Holy Russia. 


David Wansbrough
Moscow, 2018

Exhibition address:

Biblioteka Iskusstv Im. A. P. Bogolyubova


Sushchevskaya Ulitsa, 14

8 (495) 609-29-35