Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Artistic interpretations of Christ

When artists depict scenes in the life of Christ, this is a theological interpretation–no less so than a creed, hymn, or sermon.


  1. Except that creeds, hymns, and sermons aren't visual depictions purporting to image God contra the Second Commandment.

  2. Don't repeat stale objections that have been addressed in detail on this very blog.

  3. I saw the Michelangelo Pieta at the 1964 World's Fair in New York at the Vatican Pavillion. It was quite astounding really.
    The message in the art is bad however, you're right.
    I can appreciate the masterpiece, but not the meaning behind it; which is Mary is more than she really is.

  4. The Isenheim Altarpiece triptych is probably the most compelling work of medieval Christian art; at once repellent and engrossing.

    I wrote a short meditation on it for a Catholic publication:

    "Over the centuries, Christian artists have produced innumerable portrayals of the Lord’s crucifixion, but none so terrible as Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, a work at once transfixing and repulsive.

    The middle panel of the Isenheim triptych features Christ, pallid and emaciated and thorn-pierced, pinned to the tree. It is truly a garish scene, torn from some medieval nightmare: His limbs are gaunt and stretched; His veins taut, fat and dark like wet cord; His lips cracked and flecked with spittle; His nose swollen from fist and lash. There is no polish or sentiment, which is unusual for liturgical art.

    Most intriguing are the Lord’s hands and feet, which Grunewald depicts as deformed, contorted. The feet in particular are elongated and misshapen: indeed, they are rather claw-like. Why does Grunewald depict the Lamb in such a frightening way? Why is there a hint of the demonic about the dying God-Man?

    The mind flies immediately to the words of Saint Paul: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, Jesus took upon His scourged and pummeled shoulders the sins of the world. He assumed all the evil and wickedness of mankind unto Himself, as the scapegoat assumed the wrongdoings of Israel. Yea, the Word gathered up the sins of humanity and destroyed them in the purifying fire of His divinity!

    Is Christ’s beastly appearance an expression of this dimension of the atonement? In Grunewald’s imagination, the Lord’s unsightly and contorted body might just declare the Calvary event, by which mankind was ransomed from the darkness of the Devil and spared the just wrath of God."

  5. "Mary is more than she really is."

    How does the Pieta represent Mary, who bore in her womb the very Word of God, as "more than she really is"?

  6. The Catholic Church prays to Mary, the same as they pray to God. This depiction of Mary holding Jesus isn't Scripture, is it? And I don't have a problem with the art, so much as it "leans" toward Mary being divine, don't you think?

  7. I simply stated a fact, Steve. Do you disagree with my statement?

    Furthermore I suspect most if not all Christians would summarily reject creeds, hymns, and sermons about Christ that were based on pure human imagination and speculation.

    Maybe this is why there are no "mugshot" catechisms containing questions with answers detailing Christ's normal, everyday physical appearance during His humiliation.

    Likewise I can't recall ever singing a hymn or hearing a sermon resembling a police sketch artist's description of Christ during His earthly ministry.

    Strange that, no?