Revisions in Renaissance

Christ Supported by Two Angels by Giovanni

Christ Supported by Two Angels by Giovanni

I spent a wonderful day with 3 of my kids at the National Gallery of Art last week. I grew up enjoying Washington’s many museums and galleries, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is to analyze the paintings for their style and content, as well as the hidden historical and mystical references. Not fast-paced like an action movie, but riveting in its own way.

There was great beauty expressed in many of the paintings we saw. The Italian and other European artwork created during the period between the 14th to the 17th century, displays technical brilliance but also an attempt to deal with emotionally challenging parts of human history. I tried to draw the childrens’ attention to pictures that said one thing about an event which we know occurred in a different way. The crucifixion of Jesus is a perfect example.

The Crucifixion by Benvenuto di Giovanni

The Crucifixion by Benvenuto di Giovanni

In this post-Passion of the Christ era, the Italian Renaissance paintings depicting clean, beautiful, pious saints caught up in the rapturous process of Jesus’ crucifixion and death were oddly disquieting for me. The enormity of the lie therein was just too much. This big lie has become a pivotal element of Western Culture. Presenting a gory scene with pristine cleanliness is only valuable symbolism when the underlying truth of the matter is confronted honestly. If not, it’s just a collective hallucination.

How dare European painters make the act of nailing a man to a wooden armature anything other than horrific? The mockery of a trial and the ritual formalities involved in the sentencing are not the issue. Think about the nerves and the skin and the tendons and the bones that were shattered and separated. There would also have been enormous amounts of blood.

From the movie Passion of the Christ b yMel Gibson

From the movie Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson

Without reaching the issue of Christs’ political status among Hebrew men of his time, or his skin color and ethnicity (although that is a big one) or perhaps even his cosmic intervention into humanity’s downward spiral….just think about the blood and the pain and the sacrifice.

I take issue with the way the story is mangled time and again. Titian, Bellini, Francesca. ..the neat, clean presentation of what had to be a monstrously violent, barbaric act. I have read the prophecies of Isaiah and I know of Christ’s experience in the Garden in which he becomes reconciled to his fate. I get it…the martyrdom thing.

Just don’t lie about how bad it really was.

4mac

Advertisements