A collection of marble sculptures called the “Jonah Group” is now on display at the Cleveland Art Museum. “Jonah Swallowed, Jonah Cast Up, Jonah Praying, Jonah Under the Gourd Vine, and The Good Shepherd,” are the separate titles for each of the different statues depicting events in the Bible story. They are part of the John L. Severance Fund; numbered 1965.237, .238, .239, .240, .241 respectively. The “Jonah Group” was created in Asia minor, approximately 270 to 280 AD. These statues most likely decorated the water fountain in a wealthy private home. This visual Analysis focuses on “Jonah Cast Up.”
“Jonah Cast Up,” this sculpture portrays the miraculous event of Jonah being spit out of the Whale. It consists of a strangely shaped whale lying on its stomach. The whale arches its back so that the curvy tail twists up over its head. Shooting out of the whale’s mouth is Jonah. He is halfway out head first with his arms outstretched straight above his head. The figures rest on a rectangle base that is roughly 3 inches tall and approximately a square foot in area. The whole sculpture is 15 inches tall, 16 inches long, and 81/2 inches wide. The Jonah figure is missing a left hand which has broken off over time. It is a statue showing action and movement by the way Jonah is being cast up and out of the whale’s mouth.
The sculpture, as all of “The Jonah Group,” is constructed of white marble from Roman Imperial quarries in Ancient Phrygia. Having been unearthed from a large pithos in central turkey, nearly fifty percent of the sculpture’s surface remains covered with a thin layer of light brown dirt or dust. The surface is so smoothly shaped that the stone looks soft to the touch. Under an outdoor fountain, the wet statue would have a brilliant white shine.
The figure of Jonah has a well proportioned, muscular, upper body sculpted resembling a Greek God. He has a full beard and wavy flowing hair. In this sculpture, only his top half is visible, and he is not wearing a tunic. His arms are outstretched above his head palms open flat, as if thrusting his way up out of the beast. He seems completely uninjured, and his face shows little anxiety considering his situation. His eyes are open and appear to be gazing off to the horizon as if he is already planning where to begin his new life of servitude to the Lord.
The Whale is formed out of a variety of different animal parts. Most noticeably is the shape of its head. It was given a pig head shape, pig snout, and pig ears. It has sharp, vicious looking dog teeth, a dog mouth, and nose. A spiked mane runs down the back of its neck beginning between its large, perked forward ears. The Whale was given dog legs and paws. It also has feathery angel wings. The rear half of the body resembles a whale except for being too slender and for having too many curves in its tail. The tail gives it a scary, evil quality as it twists back and forth like a snake. On the end of the tail is an true whale fluke. The Whale is positioned on its stomach with fins propping it up on either side. Its eyes are blank and do not give any personality.
In the “Jonah Group,” a Hellenistic style is noticed in Jonah’s wavy hair, Zeus-like beard, and Roman tunics. There is much early Christian symbolism in this piece. Jonah swallowed and cast up possibly represents the death and resurrection of Christ. In the Bible story Jonah is not a strong fearless man. Instead he foolishly attempts to flee from God on a ship. But after he was trapped in the belly of a whale, he prayed there for three days and nights, the artist gives him a stern and fearless disposition coming back out. The Whale, as like most mythical animals in the Bible, is composed of a variety of animal parts to add to its religious symbolism. Jonah was not swallowed on accident, but instead God had a specific plan and test for Jonah and so the Whale seems to have been specially created by Him.