While attending Mass in the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, James Tissot had a vision of Jesus tending to people in a ruined building. The experience revived the 48 year-old society painter’s Catholic faith. He would make his first visit to the Holy Land four years later and focus, for the remainder of his career, on illustrating the Bible.
His first series of 365 gouache illustrations of the life of Christ created a sensation. According to art critic Ken Johnson, when they were first displayed at the Paris Salon of 1894, “Men reverently doffed their hats; women wept and knelt before the pictures, and some even crawled like penitents through the show.” Following on their success, he proceeded to the Old Testament, but was unable to finish before his death in 1902.
The Ark Passes Over the Jordan is the finest of Tissot’s Old Testament series. His design for the ark was basis for that used in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.