Acts of Mercy
Acrylic on canvas
Christ’s parable of the parting of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 is a subject well-suited to the particular talents of the London-born Irish artist, Brian Whelan. Drawing on imagery from the Middle Ages, Coptic Orthodox iconography, and contemporary caricature, he combines the comic and the cosmic in whimsical creations like this acrylic on canvas depiction of the Last Judgment narrative. The artist gives full play to the stereotype of goats as ornery and sheep as obedient, as the barnyard animals wind their way in and out of panels depicting the six acts of mercy that Christ says we do to him, whenever we feed, clothe, and shelter our brothers and sisters, giving them drink, nursing them, and visiting them in prison (where, of course, we find a goat behind bars!) Whelan presents Christ, the judge in the Gospel text, as the Good Shepherd whose loving attentions to a surprised sheep draw an envious sideways glance from a goat. The moral of this medieval mystery play piece about selfishness is abundantly clear: those who strip the trees of Paradise bare go down in flames—and what a pitiful fate it is!