This is the fourth and final part of The Art of Easter.
While there are many frescoes, mosaics, sculptures, woodcuts and paintings that depict the passion and resurrection of Christ – many spanning more that just my mere sampling of seven centuries – it isn’t just the subject matter that should be noted, but also the art itself.
Many of the art featured in these 4 parts were done by greatest artists of their time and by monks who had the deepest faith in the message of their art. All played a role in the depiction of Christ the Lamb, Christ the Savior, Christ the Redeemer, Christ the Son of God in the prevailing art style and technique of the time.
Art is not just what you depict but how it is expressed.
The slender anatomy of Christ, the taut contours shadowed against the gold ground and the windblown loincloth are related closely to the Crucifixions by Lorenzo Monaco and his workshop, as is the foreshortening of his head, lowered in death. While derived from Lorenzo’s portrayals, Angelico’s interpretation is stylistically different, best expressed in the figures of the mourners below the Cross. The artist created the illusion of depth by varying the angles at which they are portrayed and through perspective.
This is the fresco on the wall of Cell 25 of the Convento di San Marco in Florence.
Over the course of the commission for decoration of the dormitory, Fra Angelico’s direct participation in painting the frescoes seems to have diminished, while that of Benozzo Gozzoli and his other assistants increased. This is especially evident in the images of the Crucifixion with St Dominic in the novices’ cells 17 an 20 of the south corridor, which seem to have been painted almost entirely by Benozzo Gozzoli. Other artists seem to have executed several frescoes along the east corridor, as suggested by the somewhat awkward postures and gestures of the figures, the unmodulated contours and flat colours. An example of these can be seen in Cell 25.
Kneeling in the foreground of the picture is a Beato. He echoes the Magdalen in his position, pose and red gown. A foreshortened arm extends out towards the viewer, drawing us into the scene before us. It has been suggested that this figure is Alessio degli Strozzi, the dead son of the family whose patronage brought about the creation of the work. Behind him are five men, standing further forward in the picture plane than the women on the other side whom they balance. Like the women each is contemplative, reticent and mournful. One displays to the others some of the instruments of crucifixion: three gruesomely large nails with heavy drips of blood on them, and the neatly woven circlet of thorns whose perforations can be seen on Christ’s brow. Beneath their feet, indicative of Angelico’s enjoyment of the portrayal of nature, is the richly leafed and flowered turf which is common to so many of his paintings.
This panel was part of the altarpiece of the main altar in the monastery church of San Marco, Florence, and was originally in the middle of its predella.
The center predella panel of the San Marco altarpiece is not overtly connected to the scenes on either side of it, which show the life of Sts Cosmas and Damian, although it too is lit from the right. Instead it relates directly to the crucifixion at the base of the altarpiece which, when the predella was in situ, was immediately above it. Christ’s body is supported by Nicodemus, and his hands are held and kissed by the stooping Virgin and St John. Christ has a weightless air about him, so that the three other figures appear to have to do little to support him. The winding cloth lies stretched out in a receding rectangle creating the foreground space, its folds and colour echoing the white rock. Behind lies the dark rectangular void of the tomb. The sparsity and simplicity of the composition, the firmly closed-off space and the extensive use of white in this panel, are all also found in Angelico’s frescoes at San Marco.
The figures here, arranged parallel with each other, with the central perspective of the shroud leading to the tomb, shows a very different idea of spatial organization from that in Rogier van der Weyden’s panel of the same subject. (See photo below)
It is believed – but without absolute certainty – that this Entombment is the center of a polyptych which was acquired by Leonello d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, for the Study at Belfiore, when the painter went in pilgrimage to Rome in 1449, the year before the Jubilee. It is however more probable that this work – which is also mentioned as being in the Medicean Villa at Careggi – was done in 1449-50 at Florence, because it derives its compositive formula from the Deposition by Fra Angelico which is described in the previous photo as being the predella of the altarpiece of St Mark in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
This painting, in a Renaissance frame decorated with pilasters, adorned the altar of the private chapel of the Medici villa in Careggi, near Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici (1389 -1464) had built this country residence around the middle of the century, and there are good reasons to suppose that the Medici family, who must have owned Rogier’s small panel of the Madonna (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt), also commissioned the larger painting.
The work closely follows the Entombment of Christ which was part of an altarpiece by Fra Angelico, painted around 1440 for the Florentine monastery church of San Marco. Its influence is evident in the display of the dead man, shown almost standing, with Mary and John holding his arms one on each side, and more particularly in the hill with the tomb in the rock, which runs entirely counter to Northern European tradition. Fra Angelico’s altarpiece, to which the picture of the Entombment, much imitated in Florence, also belonged, was itself an important donation by the Medici family.
It is improbable that Rogier van der Weyden saw Fra Angelico’s work by chance on his Italian journey, and then reworked it for his own Medici altarpiece – particularly as we do not know whether he passed through Florence at all on his way to Rome.
The model was more probably prescribed for him by his patrons when the work was commissioned. Very likely they sent the master a sketch of the work they had donated, telling him to follow it. Such clear guidelines from Florence would also explain why the painting was executed in almost square format, unusual for Netherlandish works but common in Italy and suitable for the architectural Renaissance setting.
The patrons who commissioned the work will have been as much struck by the fine, realistic detail of the painting of the Lamentation as by the intense emotion of the faces. These qualities, and the slight asymmetry that suited late Gothic taste, distinguish the picture in significant respects from the work of Fra Angelico. A two-dimensionality at least matching that of the St John Altarpiece (Staatliche Museen, Berlin), and not at all in line with the artistic ideals of the Renaissance, is particularly noticeable in the Magdalene kneeling at the front, her limbs compressed into the same plane. The painting can thus be associated with Rogier’s late works coming after the St. Columba Altarpiece (Alte Pinakothek, Munich).
This is the fresco on the wall of Cell 36 of the Convento di San Marco in Florence.
The Crucifixion is depicted in seven cells in the corridor for lay brothers. While the friars and novices may have been moved to prayer at the thought or sight of the crucified Christ, the lay brothers required more direction in imagining the Passion. By incorporating more narrative elements, these images were able to prompt their devotion more efficaciously. In Cell 36, Roman soldiers mount ladders to nail Christ to the cross, below which the grieving Virgin and Magdalene stand as Sanhedrin look on.
The contribution of an assistant can be assumed in the execution of this fresco.
This is the fresco on the wall of Cell 6 of the Convento di San Marco in Florence.
In this fresco Christ stands on a rock, prefiguring his rising from the tomb. His arms are outstretched and in this He also foreshadows his own crucifixion. He is voluminously clad in a sculptural mass of glowing white robe, and encircling Him is a radiant white mandorla. His forward gaze does not directly engage the eye of the spectator. At the base of the rock three of the Apostles crouch in awed positions, but they maintain the curious contemplative detachment from the drama of the scene which is the hallmark of this fresco cycle.
At the edge of the fresco, on either side, stand the Virgin and St Dominic in positions indicative of prayer, stern and unresponsive to events around them. The heads of Moses and Elias appear beneath the arms of Christ; they are introduced as detached symbols to aid meditation. There is no attempt to create any more than the bare essentials of picture space; this particular spur to devotion required no more. For Angelico, too elaborate a spatial framework as much as excessive use of colour, decoration, or narrative, could detract from the picture’s power.
Antonello painted two other versions of this subject-matter which are in Antwerp and Sibiu (Romania). (Next two photos)
The painting represents Christ Crucified between two Evildoers, with Maria and John the Evangelist.
In the work of the Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina the characteristics of 15th-century Flemish and Italian painting are combined in a very balanced way. Antonello, who lived in Naples from 1445, probably became acquainted with Flemish painting through works that were shipped from Bruges to Naples.
In addition to this Venetian painting influenced Antonello when he stayed in the Lagoon City in 1475. Elements of this synthesis are already present in the Antwerp Crucifixion.
A total of only 12 signed works by Antonello have been preserved. Ten of them are also dated. One of these is the Antwerp Crucifixion. The following text is written in tiny characters on a small piece of parchment on a piece of wood broken off from the crucifix in the left foreground: ‘1475 Antonellus Messaneus me pinxit.’
In the nineteenth century, this painting was believed to be by a fourteenth-century German painter. However, since 1902 the attribution to Antonello da Messina is universally accepted, and the panel is considered to be an early masterpiece of the artist. It is the earliest work in a stylistically related series on the subject of the Crucifixion, continued by the versions in London and Antwerp. In the version at Sibiu, Antonello portrays the landscape behind the Crucifixion – the city and the Strait of Messina – from a bird’s eye view, from an almost topographical perspective.
One side of a panel painted on both sides. The other side represents the Madonna and Child with Saints.
The present composition – composed of two panels – was originally part of a large Crucifixion, which at some point in the past was broken up into smaller panels. Although five of these have been reunited in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, most of the composition is still missing.
The painting reveals a great interest in narrative and is built up through the accumulation of numerous different elements and incidents, whereby various episodes from the Passion take place at the same time: in the middle ground, Christ bearing the Cross takes the cloth which St Veronica offers Him. Behind this scene we see a hanged man, probably the traitor Judas. The various figures in the procession behind Christ are depicted in great detail, and the anecdotal nature of the painting is obvious in the figure who makes a mocking face at the Virgin and her followers.
The German painter Derick Baegert worked in Wesel in the lower Rhine region, but similarities in style between his works and panel paintings and book illustrations made in Utrecht indicate that he may have trained in that city. He was in Wesel by 1476 and painted a flag, probably for the town hall. From that year he is frequently mentioned in contracts, accounts and tax lists.
He produced several large altarpieces, including the one above for the Dortmunder Propsteikirche and the Mathena Church in Wesel, the Berlin Passion altar and the Parish Church altar in Cologne.
In this impressive panel by Baldung even the wood of the crosses seems cruelly alive. The bad Thief’s body is still tied to his tree, one tormented foot visible just above the Magdalen’s head.
The photo above and below feature the works of Hans Baldung Grien, a German painter and graphic artist. He probably trained with Dürer in Nuremberg, but his brilliant color, expressive use of distortion, and taste for the gruesome bring him closer in spirit to his other great German contemporary, Grünewald.
His output was varied and extensive, including religious works, allegories and mythologies, portraits, designs for stained glass and tapestries, and a large body ofgraphic work, particularly book illustrations. He was active mainly in Strasburg, but from 1512 to 1517 he lived in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, where he worked on his masterpiece, the high altar for Freiburg Cathedral, the center panel of which is a radiant Coronation of the Virgin.
Grien is noted for representations of the Virgin Mary, in which he combined landscapes, figures, light, and color with an almost magical serenity. His portrayals of age, on the other hand, have a sinister character and a mannered virtuosity. His most characteristic paintings, however, are fairly small in scale – erotic allegories such as Death and the Maiden, a subject he treated several times. Eroticism is often strongly present in his woodcuts, the best known of which is The Bewitched Stable Boy (1544), which has been interpreted as an allegory of lust.
This woodcut is from: Ulrich Pinder, Speculum passionis domini nostri Ihesu christi, Nuremberg 1507, print 54 r.
Hans Baldung seems to have been particularly proud of this woodcut, for he signed it with the vine leaf below right. Tintoretto used this impressive print as the model for the erection of the cross of the Good Thief in The Crucifixion of Christ (Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice).
A characteristic feature of this panel is the contrast between the upper celestial Christian realm and the earthbound dominion of pagan Rome, represented in the lower part.
The picture shows a detail of the Last Supper, a fresco painted by Cosimo Rosselli in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. There are three “window” paintings in the background of the fresco, two of them, the Arrest of Christ and the Crucifixion were executed by Biagio d’Antonio Tucci who assisted Cosimo Rosselli in the execution of this fresco.
In this composition the landscape fills the picture space and the events related to the Road to Calvary are integrated in this. The route begins at the town on the left – signifying Jerusalem – through a hilltop village, then the winding path leads to the place of crucifixion in the distant background.
This is a panel from a from a large winged altarpiece, the Florian Altarpiece painted for abbey Augustiner-Chorherrenstift at Sankt Florian near Linz, Austria. The altarpiece survived only in fragments.
The altarpiece when open represented scenes from the Passion, while showed four scenes of the Legend of St Sebastian when closed. This panel constituted a part of the predella.