Friday, November 26, 2010

Sacred Art and Liturgy - Part Two

The influence of Franciscan spirituality gave a renewed meaning to earthbound reality and triggered a major transformation in  art history. Begining with Giotto, artists began to focus on created reality as a source for artistic inspiration. The artists that followed him in this development continued to paint the Resurrection, which was now imbued with a new significance as artistic developments came to be applied to old models. In the Scrovegni Chapel, Giotto’s inclusion of the sleeping soldiers in his Noli Me Tangere (above) is interesting as it suggests that Jesus has just exited the tomb. This image has its origins in the Rabbula Gospel mentioned in the last post.

The first image of the Resurrection as a “snapshot” of an actual event is in Pietro Lorenzetti’s Resurrection of 1320,  followed a few years later by Ugolino di Nerio in his Santa Croce Altar piece of 1324.



Artistically influenced by Giotto, in these paintings Christ continues to be earthbound, his burial cloth hanging from his limbs as he steps up and out of his tomb. The soldiers sleeping at his feet inhabit the same realistic space. This particular scene, being non-scriptural, has been rejected in traditional Orthodox imagery. Yet, Jesus did exit from the tomb, it was an event that happened, and therefore within the canon of Occidental art it is perfectly acceptable.

Between 1300 and 1500, this new version of the  Resurrection continues to be a dominant theme in the artistic oeuvre. Fra Angelico depicts the traditional themes of Resurrection in the developing western style. His Harrowing of Hell is a straightforward and rather uninteresting scene of Christ freeing Adam and others from Hades . 

In Fra Angelico’s Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb, he includes the figure of Christ in a glorious mandorla hovering above the open sarcophagus.

Piero della Francesca takes Ugolino’s model and gives it new life.  Piero’s figures have a very specific individuality and are set into a precise illusionistic space. 

This depiction of the body of Christ, both strong and tender, exiting from his earthly tomb, becomes the model for Western artists’ depiction of the Lord for the next several hundred years.

Titian 1544

Tintoretto 1579

Cecco da Carravaggio 1619

Noyel Coypel 1700

Carl Bloch 1881

 Tissot 1882

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sacred Art and Liturgy - Part One.

I recently finished writing my thesis, titled The Resurrection in Art and Liturgy. This thesis and the resulting project arose as a result of my reflection upon the chapter on “Art and Liturgy” in Cardinal Ratzinger’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy. Specifically, it is first a response to a statement that our Holy Father makes: “All sacred images are, without exception, in a certain sense images of the Resurrection, history read in light of the Resurrection.” Later, after a discussion of the theology of the icon he asks, “Is this theology of the icon, as developed in the East, true? Is it valid for us?”

In order to respond, I investigated the development of early Christian art, when the Church was still unified, and studied the connections to theological and cultural developments. I researched the history of the icon in order to understand its context in the Eastern Church. From this arose the idea to combine the Orthodox and the Catholic traditions in one painting of the Resurrection, an image that could be a part of the liturgy in the same way an icon is, but one that uses the traditions and language of beauty developed by the Western masters of the past 1000 years.

Early Christian faith was anchored in Christ’s Resurrection. The actual episode of Christ’s Resurrection is not narrated in the Gospels, and for this reason we do not see it illustrated until much later in Christian art. Jesus raising Lazarus is the most frequent image in the catacombs that, along with the story of Jonah, refer to the Resurrection come alive.

Depictions of events surrounding the Resurrection are also familiar in all Gospels. We read of the three Mary’s at the tomb, based on the accounts described in Mark 1, which is the first recorded event that took place with reference to the Resurrection. First images of these myrrh-bearing women date back to the year 230.

The earliest Christian artists shared their hope and faith through illustration of scripture. The Sarcophagus of Domatilla of the 5th Century uses the Chi-ro symbol above the cross to illustrate the Resurrection and Crucifixion as one event.

The Rabbula Gospel of 586 is unique in that it depicts both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, the oldest treatment in Christian iconography.

Depictions of the Resurrection of Christ came to be represented by the descent of the Saviour into Hades. Called the Anastasis or Harrowing of Hell, it is based on I Peter 3:18-20 and the Apostles' Creed which states that Christ “descended into Hell” before his Resurrection. For the early Church this came to be the icon of the Resurrection and continues to be so for the Orthodox Church today.

Thus, Holy Tradition has shown us that the quintessential icon of the resurrection was the Descent into Hades where Christ with His soul and divinity went down to Hades and shattered the gates, freeing the souls of those awaiting him. This icon then does not represent an historical event but rather the dogma of the abolition of Hades and death and the resurrection of all humanity.

By the 11th Century, the composition for the Descent into Hades is set:

This iconographic type represents the Lord in Hades surrounded by a radiant glory; He is trampling upon the demolished gates of Hell and bears in His left hand the Cross of Resurrection, while with His right hand He raises from sarcophagus Adam, who represents the human race.


Fine examples of the Descent into Hades from this time are found in the monasteries of Hosios Loukas ,Phocis, Nea Mony and Daphni all in Greece, and the churches of San Marco in Venice.

In the next post I will look at the influence of Franciscan spirituality that gave renewed meaning to earthbound reality and shifted the entire focus of Western art, inspiring a new interpretation of the Resurrection.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Creating a Caravaggio - The Painting Stage

The first step in the painting stage is called dead colouring. In this stage, each element of the painting receives a coat of opaque paint. One colour for the part in light and one colour for the part in shadow. This is the overall average colour of an area that sets up the big relationships between all the parts. It is this big relationship that carries the painting and guides the addition of later details. Notice for example, in the image below, how the flesh colour of the head and hands is both darker and redder than the flesh of the torso.
The medium used here is one part linseed oil to three parts damar varnish.

Next, in the first painting stage, we focus on creating the illusion of form with colour. This is the stage in which all the variations are placed into the simplified earlier stage. The look should be one of a mosaic of colour with little or no blending. The medium used is one part linseed oil to two parts damar varnish.

Finally, in the second painting stage, the colours are replaced and attention is payed to the subtlety of blending. The goal is to recreate in paint all the various textures. The medium is one part linseed oil to one part damar varnish.

Once the painting has dried take a look at the overall effect. Some parts may need repainting. Often a simple glaze or tone of color will achieve the desired look- either darkening some part or softening an edge here and there.

Make sure you wait six months to a year to apply the final varnish.