Friday, July 29, 2011

19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 11 - Christ in Limbo

Title: Christ in Limbo
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 170 x 97 cm
Date: c. 1867
Location: Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


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. the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "...Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.”

During the 1860s, Cézanne turned his hand to murals to decorate the family home, Jas de Bouffan, near Aix-en-Provence. As indicated in documents from the period, this fragment, Christ in Limbo, was part of a much larger composition. Another work in the Musée d'Orsay, La Madeleine, was also part of it, although scholars attest there is no aesthetic reason to link the two. In Cézanne’s painting of Christ's descent into Limbo, the dwelling place between death and resurrection, the artist depicts the place with a careful use of color against a black background. The reds and peaches, combined with the loose brushstrokes. create a vigorous impasto intercepting light and portray a scene glimpsed through shimmering waves of heat. The souls of the Just in the Old Testament who await Redemption kneel before the Redeemer. In fact, the characters in the bottom left hand corner are probably Adam and Eve.

Paul Cézanne (January 1839 – October 1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. The line attributed to both Matisse and Picasso that Cézanne "is the father of us all" cannot be easily dismissed. Cézanne's work demonstrates a mastery of design, color, tone, composition and draftsmanship. His often sensitive and exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. During his Dark Period in Paris, 1861–1870, Cézanne was given to depression, and his works of this period are characterized by dark colors and the heavy use of black. They differ sharply from his earlier watercolors and sketches at the École Spéciale de dessin at Aix-en-Provence in 1859, and the violence of expression is in contrast to his subsequent works.

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