By: Linda Fulkerson
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a masterpiece?
A masterpiece requires outstanding creativity, skill and workmanship. The term “master piece” comes to us from the when guilds controlled crafts in their respective communities. Wealthy patrons would seek out the best craftsmen and commission them to create works for their estates, and often for their church, too, so their benevolence and reverence could be taken note of.
If a family wanted their son to learn a specific skill, they could pay a master a huge fee to take the child on as an apprentice. The typical age to enter in such an agreement was 10-15, and the term was usually somewhere between 5-9 years.
Apprentices labored for their masters with a strict work schedule, often performing menial tasks, such as sweeping the workshop, running errands, preparing work materials, grinding and mixing pigments – basically whatever the master required. In exchange for their work, the boys received food, shelter, usually one suit of clothing per year, a general education (reading, writing and basic math), and training in the Master’s trade.
As an apprentice’s skill improved, he began drawing sketches, copying paintings, and later even assisting the Master with work on his own canvas by painting backgrounds and minor characters.
Once the agreed-upon apprenticeship was completed, the now young men entered into their “journeyman years.” During this time, they journeyed from town to town, working wherever they could. Many guilds hired journeymen and paid them a daily wage. Some had barracks-type housing available, but often by this stage in a young man’s life, he had taken a wife and may have even begun a family. Most struggled financially.
Many craftsmen remained journeymen their entire careers, even if they settled into a working agreement for one guild, rather than traveling around. But the real goal for every boy who entered into training for a skilled craft was to become a Master.
A Master Craftsman could join the guild and open his own shop, hire journeymen, and take on apprentices. It was a position of prestige among the community – a select inner circle associated with power and wealth.
But becoming a Master was no simple task. Even after completing an apprenticeship and spending several years as a journeyman didn’t guarantee one could become a Master. No, a master must first pay a fee to the guild to launch out on his own. But not even money could buy a position so esteemed as that of a Master. A Master was considered a visionary capable of materializing his own vision while currently expanding that of his apprentices.
For a journeyman to be considered for a Master Craftsman position, in addition to the fee, he was required to submit a “master piece” to the guild elders for evaluation. If this masterpiece indeed proved his competence in the craft, it became part of the elite works displayed by the guild. If his masterpiece was rejected, the young man would never be able to attain his goal of becoming a Master.
Throughout the centuries, the value of masterpieces has been recognized. In fact, many, such as the Mona Lisa are considered, “priceless,” and will never be auctioned to the public.
During World War II, the Louvre was emptied of it collection of priceless masterpieces in order to hide them from the Nazis. Rather pieces of art, the museum halls bore empty frames and chalk marks recording the display location for each item. The Mona Lisa herself was relocated to the home of a family, who hung her in the bedroom, guarding her at all times so she was never left alone.
Other owners of masterpieces have hidden their treasures from potential thieves by painting over the master’s brush strokes.
There are no set “criteria” for determining what is and is not a masterpiece. The guild elders took into consideration the time, research and energy that went into a piece, its originality, subject matter, and, of course, the quality and skill of the craftsman.
One definition that seems universal among masterpieces, though, is this: A work that “nothing can be added nor anything done to improve it.”
When you thought of a masterpiece at the very beginning of this post, did YOU come to mind? Did you know you are a masterpiece? The masterpiece of God?
Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
You may have heard the saying, “God isn’t finished with me yet,” but the truth is, God IS finished with you. You are His masterpiece – and He has proudly put you on display.
He, of course, will never be finished forgiving you, loving you, and guiding you, but He is finished creating you. He has just given you the ability to choose what you’ll do with yourself. Will you seclude yourself in fear, hiding in a reclusive area like the paintings that were removed from the Louvre? Will you paint over what God has created so that the brush strokes of the Master are hidden from view?
Or, will you do the good works that He planned for you long ago?