Father Mapple is MK’s subject for this page of MD, a closeup, two-thirds view illustration of the face of the veteran-whaleman-turned-chaplain occupies the majority of the 9×11 inch found page, containing only a column of printed text almost entirely obscured by the ink and paint (you can still read: “today, / keel / the / stru / b / i […] p / Go”). Surrounding the face are charcoal-colored cloud formations, graphically shaped and opaquely painted. More nearly, their silhouettes shift from obtruding, eclipsing parts of the face in the lower and middle portions of the canvas to a solid band of color that the texture and color of Mapple’s face is showing through at the top: showing through the clouds, that is, but parting through them in their own proper shape. It’s a difficult visual effect to capture in language; the upshot is the visual identification, interplay, and hybridization between the spiritual figurehead of Father Mapple and the airy elements of which he partakes in the elemental visual spectrum of MK’s illustrations of MD. Mapple hasn’t just brought these clouds into the chapel with him from out of doors; they travel with him as atmospheric phenomena gathered on his brow.
Individual features of Mapple’s face are defined mostly by concentrations of striations and root-like strokes branching off a thick black line for a mouth, and banded cavity for eyes. Between, a triangular declivity juts over a pursed stiff upper lip. Where it is not outlined in black, the face is filled with a wash of grey that just allows the printed text on the found page to show through. Of course, MK’s linework evokes “the fissures of his wrinkles” that feature prominently in Mapple’s physical description in MD, but they also mimic the veiny linework of the whale’s body in 35. There, thin, root-like formations grow denser and more compacted where the tail tapers to the fluke, where the pectoral fin projects, and where the open wound gapes. Mapple’s face is abstracted by a mouth and eyes withheld from view: a self-effacing face, made of similar tried and true stuff as the shelter for hemorrhaging hope and ravenous faith projected onto and into the body of the whale in the previous canvas. Mapple’s body is an extension of the very atmosphere of the chapel. The proven face of weathered wood he wears to show there, as and for the whaleman or his widow. We see nothing more of his body, and his face is a mask on the air.
This is a stark contrast to the text of MD where Mapple is all body – an old guy in a “second flowering youth,” pretty spry. His “reverential dexterity” is most memorably remarked when he ascends the side ladder leading to his pulpit, but also everytime details about his appearance, bodily comportment, and facial expressions register, which is often, making him one of the most fully embodied characters in the book so far (second only to Queequeg). MK’s illustration of Father Mapple divests this spiritual figurehead of his physicality in order to emphasize his spiritual stature and the spiritual transformation to which it attests: the lower arch of his nimbus hung like gravity itself upon the unbending dried seawall of his brow, and blending his face, for all its hard weathering, with the clouds.