Friday, March 26, 2010

Christ in Limbo

Title: Christ in Limbo

Artist: Fra Angelico

Medium: Fresco

Size: 183 x 166 cm

Date: c. 1450

Location: Florence, Cloister, cell 31, Museo di San Marco.

Christ’s Descent into Hell, or Descent into Limbo, is a legend not depicted in any of the canonical Gospels. One of the first written references can be found in the Apocryphal text, the Gospel of Nicodemus. Before his bodily Resurrection, Jesus descended into Hell and led the just, the patriarchs, the prophets of the Old Testament and Adam and Eve, into the light. Later, a clarity was introduced that they had not been in Hell at all, but in the bordering region, Limbo (from the Latin word limbus, a hem); it was taught that because they lived and died before the Christ's self-sacrifice for peoples redemption, they were put in the lower place until such time when Jesus could liberate them.

In ‘Christ in Limbo’, Christ, as Conqueror, enters through the gate, which has fallen flat at His approach, beneath it Lucifer lies crushed, the impersonation of death and sin. The Saviour stretches forth His hand to Abraham, the father of the faithful, foremost among the vast multitude of "spirits in prison," who have so long awaited His coming. Among these can be seen Adam and Eve. The Italian critics look upon it as a marvelous rendering of the well-known passage in the Inferno (Canto IV, 54 et seq).

Fra Angelico (c. 1395 – February 18, 1455), was a Florentine painter as well as a Dominican friar, having entered a Dominican convent in Fiesole in 1418. He rose from obscure beginnings as a journeyman illuminator to the renown of an artist whose last major commissions were monumental fresco cycles in St Peter’s and the Vatican Palace, Rome. Within his lifetime or shortly thereafter he was also called Il Beato (the Blessed), in reference to his skills in painting religious subjects. In 1982 Pope John Paul II conferred beatification, in recognition of the holiness of his life, thereby making this title official.

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