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Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Best of the Resurrections

He Lives, 1999, Jim Lane
Several years ago, I became fascinated with religious painting. I've consequently taken to studying more closely those biblical painters of the past as a measure of my own meager efforts; and as a foundation upon which to stand in somehow trying to reach beyond what they had to say in speaking visually and spiritually to my own a Postmodern world. If that sounds like quite a mouthful, it is, and the challenge is just as monumental. My own venture into this painting genre was quite tentative and serendipitous. Though I'd painted a montage portrait depicting episodes in the life of Christ years ago, and a single head and shoulders portrait of Christ years before that, I was by no means very knowledgeable or adept at this type of art. I came to it perceiving a surprising paucity of religious depictions of the resurrection, seeing in this a chance to make my own mark using the subject. Today, I've moved on from painting religious works to exploring the life of Christ through a video montage of the painted religious works of great artists down through the centuries. I've completed the selection of works and I'm currently nearing completion of the script.

The Resurrection, 1596-1600, El Greco
Ironically, what I've found in pursuing my studies of religious art from the past is that my initial perceptions as to the relatively small number of paintings depicting the resurrection was based at least partially on my own ignorance of some very respectable efforts along this line by some very respectable artists. I was aware of one by Piero Della Francesca painted in 1450, and dimly aware of another by Matthias Grunewald, the third panel in the Isenheim Altarpiece. Neither were particularly influential. Della Francesca's painting is rather static and uninspiring. With Grunewald's work came the other extreme. I found it to be too melodramatic and demonstrative. Since attempting my own version of this earthshaking event, I've come across a couple more. Without a doubt, my favorite is that painted around 1600 by the Greek/Spanish painter, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco (left).

The nine-foot-tall painting, now housed in Madrid's Prado, is everything I might have aspired to had I ever seen it before doing my own version. In fact, had I seen this one first, I might well have asked, "Why bother?" In it, a life-size, nearly nude Christ strolls weightlessly forward from a writhing mass of semi-nude Roman soldiers seemingly exploding in worshipful ecstasy as they behold his lean, slender, graceful majesty. El Greco's trademark elongated figures further enhance the linear power of this spiritual masterpiece. Bearing a pristine white banner and trailing a brilliant red robe, the figure of Christ is both sensuous and mystical. A diamond-shaped halo breaks with tradition in marking his divinity, not that any such outdated (even for that era) device is necessary. The work is mannerist in style, heavily influenced by Michelangelo, and prefigures much of what is best from the Baroque era. And, as I suggested earlier, I'm glad I didn't see it until after I'd completed by own visual statement on the subject (top).

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