Cristo Crucificado

Every year I review different artistic portrayals of Jesus Christ for Easter. Gotta put all those hours studying art history to work.

I try to do three to four images, but I only have one scheduled this year. Even being quarantined and sheltering at home, Easter has snuck up on me.

Cristo Crucificado by Diego Velazquez

Today is Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later. The piece I choose today is Cristo Crucificado by Diego Velazquez, painted in 1632

Diego Velazquez was the the court painter for King Phillip IV of Spain and Portugal. Because of the King’s patronage both men became famous and noteworthy for the creations that came out of this relationship. In fact, many artists from Manet to Picasso studied his artwork and it influenced their style and works.

While Velazquez is known for his court portraiture, the artwork known to be his “greatest” religious piece is the Cristo Crucificado. The origins of the commission for the painting are unknown-but before we get into the art, let’s look at the text:

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareththe king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”John 19:16-22

“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)…Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.”–Mark 15: 33-36

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”–John 19: 30

So looking at the art work, it is set after the death of Christ when the spirit has left his body. Christ hangs on the cross, four nails pinning both arms and feet, his arms slightly drooped as he hangs from the cross, Pilate’s notice above his head, and his head bowed with hair falling down. 

Velazquez had just returned from a trip to Italy before painting this and we can see evidence of influence of the artwork he would have seen there. A single scene with no other story elements, the use of shadow and light to focus strongly on the main subject, and the perspective that you are right there in front of the action watching what is happening is very reminiscent of Caravaggio‘s works.

We also see the influence of the Roman artwork by depicting Jesus in a contraposto pose, a particular pose that was thought to be the most naturalistic way of posing a body and heavily used throughout the ancient times and the Renaissance. I think that Velazquez was borrowing the ideas and styles that the Romans used to honor their important heroes and Caesars and decided to use them in the image of Christ, in the moment he is at his strongest (sacrificing himself taking the sins of all the world) and weakest (after giving up his spirit).

The body is also very nude, his waist-cloth extremely small in comparison to other depictions of the cross, the artist probably influenced again by the images of powerful figures in Rome depicted nude, along with wanting to reinforce the sacrifice being made and his body broken, blood spilled, for us. 

Velazquez’s painting style uses lighting and shadow to visualize the drama of this moment in a single image and the perspective chosen makes the audience feel as if they are a part of the action, almost as witnessing the sacrifice firsthand.

Well, I hope you all have a great Good Friday and Easter, however you all celebrate it.

For more crucifixion depictions, go to With That, He Bowed His Head and Gave Up His Spirit  

For more depictions of Christ, go to He Was Taken Up Before Their Very Eyes

For more art, go to Paris Street; Rainy Day

With That, He Bowed His Head and Gave Up His Spirit

So last year I didn’t do this as I was too busy, but every year prior I have always reviewed different portrayals of Christ for Easter.

I am a Christian, and I received a major in art history and history, so it is time to put those to work.

Typically, I have reviewed more images, but Easter snuck up on me this year. So we only have two planned.

Gero Crucifix from Cologne Cathedral

Today is Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later. The piece I choose today is from the early Medieval period. The Gero Crucifix was created in 970 and brought to Cologne Cathedral by Archbishop Gero, hence were the name comes from.

But before we get into the art, let’s look at the text:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” John 19:1-7

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareththe king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”John 19:19-22

“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 23: 39-43

“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)…Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.”–Mark 15: 33-36

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”–John 19: 30

This is an important piece of art as it is the oldest surviving monumental sculpture of crucifixion to date. This is a gigantic piece, about 6 feet tall to make it seem more lifelike.

This is an incredibly emotional piece, the way it is created to really capture the text of the bible. In this we can see the great pain he went through: blood dripping down on his forehead, his body is leaning downwards in pain as he can no longer fight gravity pulling him down, his twisted body, the strain on his arms-all the pain and suffering he would have gone through.

He looks extremely vulnerable, no powerful halo or other imagery (although there was some gold pieces added later on). There was a crown of thorns to continue to add to the pain he went through, but it has gone missing through time.

What also makes this a powerful piece, besides size and the imagery, is that this is a reliquary-the head had a chamber where they would store the Eucachrist. Wow-think how powerful that would be, to take in communion and have the bread come from Christ’s body.

Well, I hope you all have a great Good Friday and Easter, however you all celebrate it.

For more Crucifixions, go to At Noon, Darkness Came Over the Whole Land…

For more artwork, go to He is Not Here; He Has Risen

At Noon, Darkness Came Over the Whole Land…

“The Crucifixion” from  The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald

Today is Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later. The piece I choose today is one of the most unforgettable images.

The Isenheim Altarpiece is a series of panels created for the hospital, Brothers of St. Anthony. It was painted in 1512-1516 (just over 500 years old) and is an enormous piece. This crucifixion scene is the outside panels, the one that would be shown all the time, except for special occasions that would merit it being open.

But before we get into the art, let’s look at the text:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” John 19:1-7

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth,the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:19-27

 “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” Mark 15:33-37

So  Grünewald follows the text, showing Christ on the cross, with Mary Magdalene, his mother, and John the Beloved. Mary faints at seeing her son’s death, and we see John catching her before she falls, showing that he is accepting his role as her son and going to take care of her for the rest of her days.

There are a few things that are not in the text but used to create a stronger presence. We have John the Baptist, (who was actually at this point in Christ’s life already dead), reminding us that he must decrease and Jesus must increase in our life as John was just preparing the foundation.

We also see the lamb near John the Baptist, a symbol of Christ being the innocent lamb and the last sacrifice. By the lamb is a chalice which is going to catch the blood of Christ, the Holy Grail.

 Grünewald creates an almost pure black background to signify the depths the Earth was plunged into when Christ took all past, present, and future sins upon him.

Now for what makes this a truly memorable piece, Grünewald’s depictions of Christ. St. Anthony is known for striving to help those afflicted with skin diseases, something that was incredibly powerful as most people who were suffering from such diseases were sent away from society. Because this was put in a hospital of people suffering a similar fate, Christ’s body is to mimic those in the hospital and show that he has encountered all that we have encountered, and that such pain is only temporary.

His body is truly a sight; full of pox, gaunt, ragged, limbs twisted (mimicking rigor mortis), skin green, and utterly in pain. It may be exaggerated in trying to sympathize with those who would be in the hospital, but it definitely makes you think about all the pain and torture he went through from being arrested to nailed on a cross.

For more Good Friday posts, go to The Death of Christ

For more crucifixion paintings, go to Elevation of the Cross 

For more paintings of Jesus, go to But This is Your Hour—When Darkness Reigns