Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC): The aesthetics of recollection in 7 works of art

Throughout the history of art, numerous artists have made pieces that deal with the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Here, a selection of paintings and sculptures that speak of each of the religious scenes of this week.

Among the various religious artistic expressions, the rich iconography around the different biblical episodes of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ that are evoked in Holy Week stands out .

Artists of all times have dedicated an important part of their work to interpreting the most significant scenes in the life of Christ, emphasizing the mystical and religious dimension through aesthetics.

“Liturgical seasons such as Holy Week are lived and built based on the biblical stories of the New Testament. There, these events in the life of Jesus are narrated, which are the center of the Easter cycle that opens a new time,” says Federico . Aguirre , vice-dean and academic of the Faculty of Theology .

In the history of art and also in the life of the Church “images have been developed with a very strong foundation in the fact that God became man, with a face where his image is shown and revealed. The interesting thing is that these images show what the biblical stories say in a much more direct way, through contemplation and, in addition, they incorporate certain elements that are not in the stories, but that are part of the tradition “, points out the expert in theology of the art and painting of religious icons.

Artists of all times have dedicated an important part of their work to interpreting the most significant scenes in the life of Christ, emphasizing the mystical and religious dimension through aesthetics.

An important distinction must be made between those religious images and cult images . The artistic representations, for example of Holy Week, are described by the Italian theologian Romano Guardini as the first. That is to say, “they are images of religious content, but that move in the field of aesthetic appreciation”, and are different from those images of worship, explains Federico Aguirre. Instead, the latter “are reproduced and received in the context of worship and of a believing community that uses the image as an instrument to connect with the sacred. Therefore, this image has functions and a way of being produced that do not necessarily respond to the canons of artistic appreciation of each era, such as the Byzantine icons”.

“Images have been developed with a very strong foundation in the fact that God became man, with a face where his image is shown and revealed” –Federico Aguirre, vice-dean and academic of the UC Faculty of Theology

Among the iconographic representations that stand out within the Paschal cycle are, for example, the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem, the last supper with the apostles, the crowning with thorns, the crucifixion, death and resurrection . Throughout the history of art, there are innumerable works that deal with these iconographic types, giving a new dimension to the religious story of Holy Week, through art. Here, a tour of seven of them:

1. Entry into Jerusalem, by Giotto di Bondone

The Scrovegni Chapel or Chapel of the Arena in Padua , Italy, houses one of the most famous mural ensembles made in the Italian Trecento (S.XIV). Giotto di Bodone ‘s “Entry into Jerusalem” shows Jesus on a donkey – a symbol of humility – and at whose feet a man spreads his cloak. On Palm Sunday, the Messiah is accompanied by his disciples and greeted with hope and joy upon his arrival in the holy city .

2. The Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci
The fresco on one of the walls of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons .
This mural painting by the Renaissance artist par excellence, Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) , was painted between 1495 and 1498 on one of the walls of the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie , in Milan, Italy.

This mural that recounts the last supper of Jesus with the apostles, and which corresponds to Holy Thursday , measures more than 4 meters high by almost 900 meters wide and was commissioned from Leonardo by Duke Ludovico Sforza. Unlike traditional frescoes, this mural was made with tempera and oil on layers of plaster. Due to Leonardo’s mastery and the majesty of the work, “The Last Supper” is considered one of the best pictorial works in the world.

3. The Crowning with Thorns, by Anthony Van Dyck

The scene of the crowning with thorns has been represented by artists such as Bosch, Titian or Caravaggio. In this famous oil painting by the Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) around the year 1620, Jesus is dressed and crowned with thorns – with a hint of mockery – as the King of the Jews. The painting that redefines Good Friday has been in the Prado Museum in Madrid since 1839 and throughout its existence it was in the possession of Rubens and Felipe IV.

4. Christ embracing the Cross, by El Greco

This was one of the scenes extensively developed by the artists of the Counter -Reformation society of Toledo . In this work from 1580, El Greco (1541-1614) represents Jesus carrying the cross with tearful eyes, but with serenity, on his way to Calvary on Good Friday . The Cretan painter shows an elongated figure of Jesus and the folds of his robe are modeled with light and color in the style of the Venetian school . “Christ Embracing the Cross” is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, MOMA .

5. Christ crucified, by Diego de Velázquez

Also in the custody of the Prado Museum in Madrid, this oil on canvas painting by the Spanish painter Diego de Velázquez (1599-1660) –considered one of the greatest exponents of Spanish Baroque– depicts another of the crucial scenes of Holy Week: the crucifixion . In “Crucified Christ” or “Christ of San Placido” , a work carried out in 1632, its author shows Jesus in a frontal nude with no narrative support other than his own figure, masterfully capturing the beauty and serene expression of Jesus crucified . The atmosphere of the work is enhanced by the union of the human corporality of the Messiah and his divinity.

6. Pietà, by Michelangelo

This magnificent sculptural work represents the moment in which a beautiful and pious Virgin Mary holds Christ, already dead . Michelangelo (1475-1564) began working on it when he was 24 years old, personally choosing the most appropriate block of marble for the work, in the quarries of the Apuan Alps of Italian Tuscany.

“The Vatican Pietà”, or Pietà , is a sculptural group made in marble between the years 1498 and 1499, and was commissioned from the Italian artist by the Cardinal of Saint Denis, Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas or de Villiers, ambassador of the French crown before the Holy See, whom the artist met in Rome. In this sculptural work that represents one of the scenes of Good Friday and that today is in the Vatican , one can read “Miguel Ángel Buonarroti, Florentine, did it”.

7. The Resurrection of Christ, by Raphael Sanzio

“The Resurrection of Christ”, by the Renaissance master Rafael Sanzio (1483-1520) , is possibly one of the first works of this Florentine artist. Made between 1499 and 1502 and in a small 52 cm format. x 44 cm., the work represents one of the most important events of Christian doctrine and its theology: the resurrection of Jesus . According to New Testament texts , Jesus was crucified, killed, and laid in a tomb, rising on the third day.

The painting, where the risen Christ holds a banner and towers over four soldiers, became one of the most frequently depicted pictorial scenes of the Renaissance .

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