Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Christ on the Cross

Title: Christ on the Cross
Artist: Eugène Delacroix
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 80 x 64.2 cm
Date: 1846
Location: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

John 19:31-37 - Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.

Sharply silhouetted against the darkened sky is the dying Christ. A couple of gesturing spectators appear at the left, and on the right are two mounted Roman soldiers with billowing banners. Other onlookers are visible in the mid-ground. Although not a practicing Christian, Delacroix painted a number of New Testament subjects. Evidently, he was attracted to the drama of Christ's Passion and was endeavoring to deal with issues of personal faith raised by Christ's human and divine nature. When this work was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1847, the critics enthusiastically praised it, noting its affinities with Crucifixion scenes by the great Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens.

Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix (April 1798 – August 1863) was a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as a leader of the French Romantic school. In 1815 he entered the studio of the neoclassical painter Pierre Narcisse Guérin, where he met Théodore Géricault, a romantic painter by whom he was much influenced. Delacroix took for his inspiration the art of Rubens and painters of the Venetian Renaissance, with an attendant emphasis on color and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modeled form. Delacroix's use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of color profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Crucifixion

Title: Crucifixion
Artist: Jörg Breu the Elder
Medium: Oil on wood
Size: 87 x 63 cm
Date: 1524
Location: Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.

Luke 23:32-43 - Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke’s gospel describes how Jesus and two criminals head to their fate. The Greek term describing the other offenders, kakourgos, is a generic one for "lawbreaker" (Prov 21:15). Mark 15:27 and Matthew 27:38 describe the men with the term lestes, which can mean "bandit" or "revolutionary." This is the word Jesus used to question his arrest in Luke 22:52. The other Synoptics mention these thieves, but they only note that they reviled Jesus. Apparently one of them has a change of heart, however, as he hears Jesus intercede for others and watches him tolerate the taunts. This criminal anticipates the restoration and resurrection, and asks to be included. His depth of perception stands in contrast to the blindness of those who taunt. This thief, despite a life full of sin, comes to Jesus and seeks forgiveness in his last mortal moments. He confesses his guilt and casts himself on Jesus' mercy and saving power. Luke could not have painted a clearer portrait of God's grace.

Jörg Breu the Elder was a German painter and designer of woodcuts whose subjects included portraits, altarpieces and battle scenes. He was one of the leading painters of his time in Augsburg, and was patronized by both the emperor Maximilian and by Duke William IV of Bavaria. His style was complex and detailed, sharing something of Altdorfer's passion and love of landscape, and showing strong influence from Dürer and a journey he made to Italy in about 1514.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent - Christ Before Pilate

Title: Christ before Pilate
Artist: Jacopo Tintoretto
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 515 x 380 cm
Date: 1566-67
Location: Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice.

Matthew 27:12-26 - When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. “Crucify him!” They all answered. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

This part of Matthew's account has less to do with Jesus than with Pilate: it is not Jesus but the character of Pilate that is on trial. Though Pilate knows the unjust motivation of the charges and receives a divine warning, political expediency takes precedence over justice. Are we also guilty of the same crime whenever we side with views because they are popular in our society or political party even though we know that someone is suffering unjustly? The hearing is swift not only because Pilate is more concerned with his political position than with justice, but also because Jesus refuses to defend himself. By Roman law, a defendant who refused to make a defense was assumed guilty.

Tintoretto (September 1518 – May 1594) also known as Jacopo Robusti or Jacopo Comin, was an Italian painter and a notable exponent of the Venetian Renaissance school. Tintoretto decorated the walls of the Sala dell'Albergo by paintings showing important moments from the Passion of Christ and he finished them in the early months of 1567.The most admired has always been Christ before Pilate. In a very fine and measured luministic web the figure of Christ, wrapped in a white mantle, stands out like a shining blade against the crowd and the architectural scenery. He is centered by a bright ray of light and stands tall in front of Pilate who is portrayed in red robes and as if sunk in shadows. Taking up the idea of Carpaccio in his St Ursula cycle, Tintoretto portraits the old secretary at the foot of Pilate's throne. He leans against a stool covered with dark green cloth and with great diligent enthusiasm notes down every moment, every word spoken by the judge amid the murmurings of the pitiless crowd which obstinately clamors for the death of Christ.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent - Christ Taken Prisoner

Title: Christ Taken Prisoner
Artist: Giuseppe Cesari
Medium: Oil on walnut panel
Size: 89 x 62 cm
Date: c. 1597
Location: Staatliche Museen, Kassel.

Mark 14:43-52 - Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

As the armed mob takes Jesus captive, in a futile gesture, one of the disciples draws a sword and severs the ear of the high priest's servant. In Matthew's account this becomes an opportunity for Jesus to teach. He warns the disciple not to return violence for violence, for those who live by the sword die by the sword. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had urged his disciples not to turn to violence; a child of God must love even the enemy. If it were a simple matter of displays of power, God could overwhelm Jesus' attackers with legions of angels. But God's reign revealed in the scriptures would not be imposed by violence. Jesus' fidelity would take him into the valley of death but, ultimately, the scriptures would be fulfilled and love would defeat violence and death.

Giuseppe Cesari (1568 – July 1640) was an Italian Mannerist painter, also named Il Giuseppino. Christ Taken Prisoner is one of Cesari's most important works, its popularity attested by the existence of a somewhat smaller version in the Galleria Borghese and of numerous copies. Cesari bathes the scene in a pale moonlight that gives the colors an almost metallic coolness. His rendering of the form of the moon, and of the stars shining with varying degrees of brightness, testifies to a growing interest in the realistic representation of the night sky. The picture must have been painted in Rome in 1596/97, when Cesari was working on one of his most important commissions, the fresco cycle for the Palazzo dei Conservatori.