1. A Calvinist education
A family tradition
The son and grandson of a Protestant minister, Vincent had wanted to devote himself to evangelism from the age of 23. He alternated theological studies - in Amsterdam (1877-78) and Brussels (1878) - with field experience as a preacher - in Ramsgate and London (1876), then in the Belgian Borinage (1879).
A question of optics
1880. Just as he could not conform to theological teaching, he could not tolerate artistic teaching and taught himself from drawing manuals. In order to master perspective, he used a perspectival frame through which he observed his subjects. Optics was a Dutch speciality that met the visual requirements of the Reformed faith.
A love for craftsmanship
Vincent sometimes described his canvases as tapestries of coloured thread, sometimes as fields ploughed by his brush, comparing his work as a painter to the toil of a weaver or farmer. In this way, he celebrated the redemptive work of the workers he depicted.
Arles the Catholic
Vincent settled in Arles and discovered Provençal Catholic folklore with its living nativity scenes, santon markets and pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The Berceuses series can be interpreted as the secularised response of a former preacher to encounters with a living Catholic culture.
Readings Debora Silverman, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000 https://vangoghletters.org/vg/