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

Good Friday

I don’t know about any of you readers, but my family always celebrates Good Friday by not using electronics and trying to focus on God from the hours of 12-3; the times Christ hung on the cross and darkness covered the earth. Not every Christian celebrates this way, but my mom’s family did and it carried on to us.

So the image I wanted to focus on today is The Holy Trinity by Masacio. I did a report on this painting so it is a favorite of mine. Masacio is the first painter to use the rules of perspective in his works. His friend Brunelleschi was the one who came up with it and shared his ideas with Masacio. Masacio structures the fresco with the viewer in mind, making sure that the perspective was drawn according to the relation of how one would look up toward it.  Masacio also styled his painting so that it would resemble a side chapel, he studied the rest of the church and made the barrel vaults and coffers look just like the ones in the real church.

Like Leonardo, Masacio used the number three and triangles a lot. As the painting itself was about the Holy Trinity, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (3), creating a whole painting out of trianges and threes connected the physical and spiritual realms. First the painting is divided into three squares; the top of the image to about Christ’s mid-chest, from mid-chest to the groundline that the donors who cominissioned the painting (on the far right and far left) rest upon, and from that groundline to the bottom of the image. Many triangles are made throughiut the image but the most significant being God and the two donors, Jesus, Mary (in purple) and John the Beloved ( in a pinky hue), and Jesus and the two donors.

Masaccio recognized that using this method would not only improve the composition of his image but it would also make the spiritual tone stronger. There is a scripture in the Bible, in John 14:6, that says “No one gets through the Father except through me” and the use of pyramidal composition with the ascending line from Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, and to the Father alludes to this passage.

At the bottom is a skeleton and tombstone; a reminder that soon you will be dead, and should consider where you want to end up.

300px-Masaccio,_trinità

“They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.”–Mark 15: 21-23

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed…one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”–Luke 23: 32-34

“Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. 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. 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.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” …Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he lovedstanding nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,”  and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”–John 19: 19-27

shock_passion_of_the_christ

“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

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open…When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”–Matthew 27:51-54

“So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body…Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”–Mark 15: 42-46

“The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”  So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”–Matthew 27:62-66

To go to previous Easter posts click on Palm Sunday, The Last Supper or The Betrayal of Christ