Reviews by Joyce Glasser Exhibition on Screen: Easter in Art (April 5, 2022 for a limited time only) 85 minutes.
Director and co-writer Phil Grabsky usually brings us exhibitions by a painter and/or an exhibition, but in Easter in art Dozens of the world’s greatest artists who have worked in Christian nations throughout history are represented. In an unusual but revealing format, dozens of beautiful illustrations remind us of the entire Easter story as it is written in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
This is only fitting as one of the most important aspects of understanding Passion paintings is the relationship between word and image. Artists have given “the word” their own visual manifestation for centuries. Your commissions should do just that for the benefit of the clergy, wealthy donors, and the illiterate masses.
As one of the film’s three experts, Dr. David Gariff of the National Gallery of Washington, reports that Renaissance painters in particular began to create fresco cycles on the walls of religious institutions, one of the most famous being that of Giotto (1303-1305). in the Scroyegni Chapel in Padua. The stories are presented the way a film editor would set up a film, and the analogy is apt as that was the ultimate form of communication of the time.
Giotto’s act was difficult to follow, but almost two hundred years later Leonardo da Vinci painted a single large fresco of it The last supper in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Its location was chosen to remind the monks of Christ’s sacrifice and of his disciples as they sat down to supper.
Grabsky’s format is clever, too, because like the film’s three experts, Dr. Gariff, Times art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston, and Dr. Jennifer Sliwka of Kings College, London, points out that Easter is the most important festival in Christianity and it is the most illustrated story in western history. The story has themes that the layperson can relate to such as love, pain, suffering, faith, betrayal and hope.
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, art was predominantly religious. So this isn’t just an Easter story, it’s an art story. The story begins with Christ’s activities that earned him the name of King of the Jews and a following that irritated the Jewish establishment (if the Gospels are to be believed). The main event was the cleansing of the temple, illustrated among others by El Greco in 1570. Correcting the scribes and chief priests, Jesus points out: “It is not written” that the temple “is to be called a house of prayer, but you have one Made a den of thieves out of it.” Then he starts smashing things and chasing people.
From then on, the Parsis, high priests and councilors want revenge. They are portrayed as rebellious monsters until the governor Pontius Pilate, who keeps declaring that this man has committed no crime, has no choice but to crucify their nemesis.
The Last Supper is, of course, a Passover seder, and many artists have drawn on the subject, including the nun Plautilla Nelli, the first woman to paint the subject 450 years ago and the only woman on the list. Andy Warhol’s The last supperWritten at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Caravaggio’s drama is missing but to advance the story Dinner at Emmaus (1601) and the Master of Capenberg (1525-1530) Christ before Emmauswith his men in light-colored tights, makes up for it.
To bring Jesus to justice, he must have committed a crime (he was framed, Putin-style, for inciting the mob) and he must be identified—that is, betrayed. Giotto has a beautiful fresco of Judas’ betrayal, and other masterpieces are on display that focus on Judas’ kiss and Jesus’ admirable warning to his vengeful disciples: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will pass the sword perish.”
dr Gariff points out that it was imperative that Jesus, who lived as a man, died as a man. As a result, we have about two dozen masterpieces that depict in vivid detail his betrayal, taunt, torture, and death. The idea is that the church identifies with Jesus and that we as humans fit naturally into the story. The best painters have found techniques to make their art speak directly to our human condition and frailty.
The gory part of the story is perhaps the most effective and popular. cash register Agnus Dei (1635-40) by Francesco de Zurbaran and Anthony van Dyck and Caravaggio’s (1602) The Taking of Christ. Better still, Jaume Huget (1455), Caravaggio (1607-10) and Diego Velázquez (1628) spare us nothing in their Flagellation of Christ, while Guido Reni (1639-40), Peter Paul Rubens (1612) and Hieronymus Bosch (1510) show the cruel crown of thorns and the mocked Christ.
The narrative reminds us that if the outcome were not so terrible and tragic, there was an almost comical game of passing the buck as the Parsis and others dragged Jesus to various authorities hoping to dump him. The first station was the high priest Caiaphas (Christ before Caiaphas by Giotto and also by the master of Guillame Lamberg from 1480-90), who sent him to the governor Pontius Pilate (The Master of Beighem Alterpiece, 1520-1540, and Rembrandt’s magnificent print of 1636). Jesus was a soccer ball passed from Pilate to Herod (Christ before Herod by Antonio Ronzen 1517-20) and back to an aggravated Pilate (Jacobo Tintoretto (1566) and Albrecht Dürer (1512) literally washing his hands in Jesus’ blood.
Images of the Crucifixion and Crucifixion (Rembrandt’s descent from the cross receives an interesting analysis from Mrs. Campbell-Johnston) outnumber images of the resurrection, which is where Easter comes into play. The story is particularly triumphant when it comes to the resurrection, however, as Christ eludes the centurions guarding the tomb and proves the mocking priests wrong when they call Jesus’ prophecy of the ascension from the tomb a fraud.
And there is no shortage of dramatic paintings of the Entombment, like Tintoretto’s (1550-1560) and Rogier van der Weyden’s (1460-64). Michelangelo’s early unfinished Entombment is innovative for the way the body is held upright by the sacred figures as if presenting Christ to the viewer. His feet not touching the ground as if they were floating and his perfect, muscular body could await his resurrection three days later.
The film focuses on medieval and Renaissance depictions, although the 19th century is represented by a Delacroix and a Manet. My only complaint is the omission of Graham Sutherland’s powerful 1961 No I Tangier at Chichester Cathedral.
Insightful and beautifully presented, we see Easter being revived through centuries of masterpieces.
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