Paintings Depicting the Raising of Lazarus

For centuries artists have retold the Biblical story of Lazarus. His raising from the dead was not only a historical event to be remembered for generations, it was a sacred message for everyone today. We too can be raised to new life and our grave cloths removed. These beautiful paintings depict and remind us of God's great love for each of us and his intimate work in our lives to call us out of our tomb.


The Raising of Lazarus 1304, by Giotto di Bondone

The portrayal of Lazarus makes no allowance for squeamish stomachs. He is dead, and his body has begun to decay. Jesus raises a commanding hand to him with the loud words “Lazarus, come out!”. The people around him are overcome with fear and consternation.

This is one of the superlative frescoes from the Arena (or Scrovegni) Chapel in Padua – Giotto’s greatest work. The whole of this chapel is lined with scenes from Christ’s life, painted for the private chapel of a rich citizen who wanted to atone for his father’s sin of usury (taking interest on borrowed money was considered a sin at the time…). Giotto was one of the first artists to try to show human emotion in the facial expressions and gestures of the people in his paintings.

Description courtesy of Bible Paintings,

Resurrection of Lazarus - Caravaggio.jpg

Resurrection of Lazarus 1608-09by Caravaggio

Most of Caravaggio’s religious subjects emphasize sadness, suffering and death. In 1609 he dealt with the triumph of life and in doing so created the most visionary picture of his career.

Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was the patron of Giovanni Battista de’ Lazzari, to whom Caravaggio was contracted to paint an altarpiece in the church of the Padri Crociferi. The Gospel of St John tells how Lazarus fell sick, died, was buried and then miraculously raised from the dead by Christ.

Once again, the scene is set against blank walls that overwhelm the actors, who once more are laid out like figures on a frieze. Some of them, says Susinno, were modelled on members of the community, but at this stage Caravaggio did not have time to base himself wholly on models and relied on his memory – the whole design is based on an engraving after Giulio Romano and his Jesus is a reversed image of the Christ who called Matthew to join him.

There is a remarkable contrast between the flexible bodies of the grieving sisters and the near-rigid corpse of their brother. In the gospel Martha reminds Jesus that, as her brother had been dead four days, he would stink, but here nobody detracts from the dignity of the moment by holding his nose. Jesus is the resurrection and the life and in the darkness through him the truth is revealed.

Description courtesy of The Web Gallery Of Art

The Raising of Lazarus 1630-1632, by Rembrandt

It is also important to note how Van Gogh has altered the composition of the painting in his copy. He has changed the focus completely, choosing to address Lazarus from a much more concentrated perspective. For Rembrandt, Lazarus himself was only a small part of the composition, and he shared his focus with a handful of other figures. Van Gogh has minimized the human presence in his composition to two figures other than Lazarus; he has completely removed almost all elements of the painting except for this image of death. As he had done in his life at this time, Van Gogh focuses on death, bringing it to the foreground of his painting in an interesting parallel to its position in the foreground of his life.

Furthermore, Van Gogh has altered the setting for his copy of this painting in an extremely significant way: he has moved it outside. While Rembrandt’s scene takes place indoors, Van Gogh has brought it out into the warm yellow sunlight, and placed in the background the glowing orb of the sun over an indication of a mountainous landscape. Van Gogh chose to move this scene of death to the outdoors because that is where he saw death; he moved it to a location that was to him more fitting, in a clear manifestation of his association between death and the outdoors.

Description courtesy of Blogs

The Raising of Lazarus 1690 


by Guercino

The raising of Lazarus is one of the Caravaggesque works. All characters in the story are portrayed in the scene: the half-naked Lazarus being untied, Christ pointing at him at the right, Mary and Martha surprised by the resurrection, Jewish priests muttering about the miracle and, at the lower-right corner of the work, a character nauseated by the stench of the tomb. The diagonal composition, the play of light and shadow, the dynamism of the work and movement, are all characteristics of the style of Caravaggio, to which Guercino subscribed. The work takes a supernatural event to reality and that is why the artist only suggests the divinity of Christ by a faint halo: the drama in this painting hasn’t got to do with the miracle in itself. It rather has to do with the experience of witnessing it.

Description courtesy of art blog

The Raising of Lazarus May 1890, Saint-Rémy Oil on canvas,

Vincent van Gogh


While at Saint-Remy, Van Gogh created a number of oil copies of black-and-white prints he had by some of his favorite artists, including Rembrandt, Millet, and Delacroix. His choice of which paintings to copy and the manner in which he chose to do so bespeak his fear of and obsession with death; an example of this is Van Gogh’s copy of The Raising of Lazarus by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Van Gogh’s choice to depict Lazarus has concrete and obvious ties to the specter of death in his life. Lazarus is a biblical character who was resurrected by Christ four days after his death. The subject’s tie to death is inherent, and there is also here an undercurrent of the idea of life after death. This is similar in theme to Van Gogh’s speculations that in death he would be among the stars, which implies something of a continued existence akin to that of Lazarus, regardless of its level and means.