Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Christ and the Twelve Apostles

Title: Christ and the Twelve Apostles

Artist: Unknown (Catalan master)

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 102 x 151 cm

Date: c. 1100

Location: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

The earliest surviving examples of Spanish panel paintings are the altar panels produced by painters active in the workshops attached to religious houses. These panels were intended for the decoration of altars and the choice of theme was confined to the symbolic representation of figures from the New Testament. In practically every one of these panels we find centrally placed the figure of Christ or the Virgin, surrounded by a halo, and a hieratic arrangement of the apostles.

This panel, an altar frontal from a church in the bishopric of La Seu d'Urgell, also known as the Apostles Frontal, is a magnificent example of such a retable. The Maiestas Domini, or Lord-in-Majesty, is inscribed within a double mandorla, a frequent characteristic in models of Carolingian inspiration. Christ, judging the world, places his hand on a book with the very gesture that might be used by a student of the law as he closes the codex in which he has sought guidance in reaching a fair judgment. On either side are the apostles, in a very original triangular composition. At the same time there is in the iconography all the naiveté of folk-art: the detail and ornamental elements convey the painter's delight in unrestricted decoration.

The Apostles Frontal illustrates in a very clear way some of the most characteristic aspects of Romanesque art such as the symmetry, the formal geometry or the hierarchical perspective. It is one of the masterpieces of collection of panel painting in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya.

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