The weirdest triduum of my lifetime: #EasterSunday

The event of Christianity, yet although there are many paintings of the Resurrection, they kind of elude the sense of mystery and surprise. They tend to emphasise – reasonably enough – the power and the glory – to borrow a phrase.

I like the ones (1, 2) that show the hitherto despondent apostles rushing around, unable to fully grasp what’s happened. Human, as we are.

In keeping with the earlier posts (here and here) showing events after the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion, here is the classic noli me tangere where Jesus, already risen, speaks to Mary Magdalene. Lots of painters portrayed this moment, most famously Titian, but here is one of the younger Brueghels (Jan the younger). It’s interesting that it is very common in Netherlandish biblical art to portray the scenes with many characters in contemporary clothing and settings (like Brueghel’s grandfather Pieter, in his Massacre of the Innocents). It is the equivalent of us setting biblical scenes with everyone dressed in high street clothing, and Calvary, say, as the local park. Sounds radical but it always works well for me.

Easter, in any event, is about as radical as one can get.

Noli me tangere, Jan Brueghel the younger, 17th century. Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki


The weirdest triduum of my lifetime: interlude – #HolySaturday

Apart from the gospels and related scripture from the time of Christ, there are loads of scraps of writing from the first few centuries Anno Domini, which form part of the repository of Christian faith and have the seal of approval from the church, without actually forming scripture. They are mostly sermons, letters and analyses of what’s gone before, trying to form a coherent philosophical, theological and practical framework. This went on for centuries of course (see Aquinas), and much of the time was spent battling the numerous heresies that arose.

We don’t read this stuff much – mostly in the Lectio Divina, I’d say – though many of the authors are big names such as St John Chrystostom,  and some is remarkably poetic, which leads to today’s author, probably Melito of Sardis**. He definitely existed, and was less definitely the author of the piece which is always quoted for today, mainly because it’s hushed poetry is unimprovable. The whole sermon/prayer is worth reading, but it’s the opening that sticks in the mind:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear…

Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ – one of the most technically daring paintings of all time given it’s use of extreme perspective – is appropriate. The face is not one of the broken failure of the cross, but rather nobility and strength in repose, waiting.

The Lamentation of Christ, Mantegna, 1478. Pinacoteca Brera, Milan


** the authorship is uncertain, here @EduardHabsburg (yup, those Habsburgs) is suggesting a St Epiphanus, two centuries later

The weirdest triduum of my lifetime: #GoodFriday

Yesterday I highlighted the scene on Holy Thursday after the Last Supper. On this Good Friday, it is the scene after the crucifixion itself – the descent from the cross. This is the 13th Station of the Cross in the Catholic church. Look on the walls of pretty much every single Catholic church or chapel at the 14 stations.

Rembrandt was along with Turner, possibly the best example of almost insane prolificity and technical brilliance. He’s famous for a reason. His use of dramatic lighting  rivalled Caravaggio. Here is his best version of the Descent from the Cross – a painful scene of degradation and failure, performed by a cast of toiling Dutchmen overseen by the elegant, conscientious Joseph of Arimathea (or is it Nicodemus)

Rembrandt, The descent from the cross. 1634. The Hermitage, St Petersburg


Good Friday has produced striking poetry. Try the 8th century poem “Dream of the Rood” .

The Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:

“It was long past – I still remember it –
That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.

“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.

“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.

“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,

The open wounds of malice. Yet might I
Not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after He had
Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
Full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Pretty remarkable. Even more unexpectedly, Roxy Music summed up much of this shocking day…

The weirdest triduum of my lifetime: #MaundyThursday

Is the most vivid image of Maundy Thursday the liturgically key Last Supper, or the brutal betrayal and heightened emotions in Gethsemane. This year I will go with the latter…

The taking of Christ, Caravaggio,1602. National Gallery, Dublin

A painting with a strange tale behind it, and an extraordinary image. Judas as the most wretched of men. If you are a believer, then Judas may not be in hell – one of those fascinating recurring questions in Christianity. One of the greatest intellects of Christendom (great word), Benedict XVI, reflects a little on it here.

But, wherever he ended up, Repin’s masterpiece will strike a chord in anyone who has ever suffered guilt, from a knowing misdeed…

judas (1)
Judas, by Repin, 1885. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Palm Sunday – a very strange one

Churches locked, empty(ish) streets, a sombre mood gripping the nation – but the usual Palm Sunday good weather. Those of a religious mind may – as I do – wonder about the Coronavirus crisis coinciding with Lent.

In any event, Palm Sunday is intrinsically a precursor of the most joyful period, Easter, which we can all get behind, one would like to think, when it comes.

Three pieces demonstrating the aesthetics/poetics of this day, two of them old favourites. James Ensor (one of the greatest Belgians), the Jerry Garcia Band (God rest his soul), and one of the great Englishmen, GK Chesterton…..

Christ’s entry into Brussels, James Ensor, 1889. Getty Museum, California






Easter Sunday

Mikhail Nesterov, The empty tomb, 1889.

….a great Russian symbolist

Sebastiano Ricci, The resurrection, 1715. Dulwich Picture Gallery

Ricci was a success in his lifetime, and died in 1734. He’s one of those painters about whom there is probably little current enthusiasm, but the man had style. He was also quite an innovator. Here’s a brief summary, for interest:

“Ricci, leaning at first on the example of splendid art of the Veronese, made a new ideal prevail, one of clear and rich coloristic beauty: in this he paved the way for Tiepolo. The painting of figures of the Roccoco to Venice remains incomprehensible in its evolution without Ricci… Tiepolo germinated the work started by Ricci to such a richness and splendor that it leaves Ricci in the shadows… although Sebastiano is recognized in the combative role of forerunner “(Derschau).

“He is the master of a resurrected-fifteenth century style, whose painterly features are enriched with nervous express and, typically 17th century” (Rudolf Wittkower). Wittkower in his Anthology, contrasts the facile luminous style of Ricci with the darker, more emotional intense painting of Piazzetta. Like Tiepolo, Ricci was an international artist; Piazzetta was local.

“We perceive in him that synthesis of the baroque decorativeness and individualized and substantial painting, that we will see later again in Tiepolo. On one side the influence of Cortona, directed and indirect, and on the other the observant painting of the hermit Magnasco; more intense, substantial and freed academic impulses, the airy, shining influences become, to the open air, magical coves, as well as gloomy corners. A new synthesis that opened wide new painting horizons, even if the scene is not that of a ballet, it is felt like bing in the wonders of the color, in more vibrating, acute, agile accents “(Moschini).

“At the start of the Baroque..Venetians remained isolated from the outside…from the great ideas of the baroque painting… The Ricci are the first traveling Venetian painters… and succeed to inaugurate the so-called roccoco rooms of Pitti and Marucelli palaces.”(Roberto Longhi).

Ricci “brought back in the Venetian tradition a wealth of chromatic expression resolved in a new vibrating brilliance brightness…by means of the intelligent interpretation of the Veronese chromatics and of the brushstrokes of a Magnasco-like touch, from the 16th century impediments, he takes unfashionable positions against “tenebrous styles”, is against the new Piazzetta – Federico Bencovich. He supplied a valid painterly idiom for … Tiepolo to use after his defection from the Piazzettism “(Pallucchini).

“Venice, still more than Naples, collects the Ricci inheritance of the prodigioso trade of Luca Giordano… Sebastiano throws again it, widens he then, refines it for the school of Sebastiano Mazzoni “(Argan)

Holy Saturday

This is a regular post, about an enduringly mysterious day.

The dead Christ, Mantegna, c1480. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

This video is worth watching. An unprecedented, extraordinary work of art. It was still lying in his studio when Mantegna died.

Hades III (The harrowing of hell), Peter Howson, 2011

Howson is a compelling figure, with – like his predecessor, Bosch – a sincere religious belief informing his painful art.

Palm Sunday

It was 1981 when I had the pleasure of seeing The Grateful Dead live, with Jerry Garcia on great form. I was surrounded by Austrian hippies smoking dope, which made it hard to stay awake. The band were terrific though.

Jerry was a pure musician. Here is his remarkable take of Palm Sunday, from his Jerry Garcia Band career. Without being overtly religious, it captures some of the numinous essence of what’s about to unfold.