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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Art and Jesus--the Resurrection

Noli mi Tangere, 1306, Giotto
The Resurrection, 1463, Piero Della Francesca
Christ's resurrection is what makes His life meaningful. Without this single, earth-shattering event, Jesus would be, at best, just another Hebrew prophet and teacher. Yet some of the earliest depictions involving Jesus' resurrection concentrate on his confrontation with Mary Magdalene as seen in Giotto's somewhat awkward, 1306 fresco, Noli mi Tangere (above). Piero della Francesca presents us with a triumphantly victorious Christ, another fresco image this one much more carefully composed, yet one which is rather cold and statuary. The image today resides high on a wall facing the entrance of the artist's hometown church in Sansepolcro, Tuscany. College Art history students know it as the most endlessly analyzed composition in the history of art history.

The Resurrection, 1442-45, Luca della Robbia

Noli me Tangere, 1581, Lavinia Fontana
The Italian artist, Luca della Robbia, chose to create a high-relief, glazed terracotta sculpture of the risen Christ with his 1442-45 The Resurrection (above) for the Duomo in Florence. Even a momentary study of the work finds it as having heavily influenced della Francesca's 1463 fresco (above, right). Over a hundred years later in 1581, Lavinia Fontana, was one of the few women to portray the life of Christ as she also explores the relationship between the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene in her painting Noli me Tangere (left). Jesus mistaken role as a gardener is accentuate by her inclusion of a spade in his left hand and a rather awkwardly rendered, ridiculous looking hat. Not only that, but she paints Jesus as being obese.

The Angel is Opening Christ's Tomb, 1640, Benjamin Cuyp
The Resurrection of Christ,
1565, Tintoretto
And once more we look at the work of Tintoretto and his Resurrection of Christ (right) from 1565. It is a typically overpopulated, Mannerist handling of the resurrection. Despite his usual dark, melodramatic forms, this time his work is largely without some of the compositional complexities seen earlier. In contrast, from the north of Europe around 1640, the Dutch artist, Benjamin Cuyp, much better known for painting cows and other livestock, shows us The Angel Opening the Tomb (above), preceding the resurrection itself. It's a refreshing, if somewhat melodramatic departure from many of the Italian depictions. However, even the occasional Bible reader will note that the tomb is nothing like that described in scriptures. Such discrepancies, here and elsewhere, are most likely caused by the artist's lack of ready access to the printed texts and multiple translations we have today. In such a vacuum, artists tend to portray such things patterned after their own cultural understanding.

Doubting Thomas, 1602, Caravaggio
He Lives,
20th century, Simon Dewey
The famous Italian artist, Caravaggio, in 1602, chose to explore the Doubting Thomas (above), no longer doubting the resurrected presence of Jesus. The 20th century artist, Simon Dewey, in his version, He Lives, (left) depicts the resurrection quite accurately from scripture, though his work, and that of many contemporary artists tend to be somewhat less dramatic than in the past. My own version, borrowing my title from Dewey, seeks to be both. In doing so, I faced the same quandary as dozens of other artists, now and then. In painting one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible, do you paint the scene in a natural, human manner and let the drama arise in the viewer's emotional understanding of the incident? Or, do you attempt a literal representation of the supernatural and risk becoming melodramatic, or perhaps falling short of that which the viewer imagines? There's also the risk, in trying to do both, of, in fact, doing neither.

Copyright, Jim Lane
He Lives, 1999, Jim Lane


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