George Dunlap, Good Friday, April 19, 2019
I am starting a post on Christian classical art; in beauty we have hope in Christ. I trust you will enjoy some of my selections and the history of the paintings and artists. Wishing you and your family a Blessed Easter.
The Spanish Golden Age stands as one of
the richest and most bountiful eras in history for art, and amongst all
of the artists who contributed to it, Diego Velazquez will surely rank
as being amongst the most prominent.
Born in 1599, Velázquez
was one of the court artists of King Philip IV and crafted a wide range
of masterpieces throughout his career. Many of his paintings were
portraits of sixteenth-century Spanish nobility, and thanks to him, we
have an array of brilliant snapshots into what courtly life of this era
looked like. To glance at one of Diego Velazquez’s paintings is to be
transported into a bygone age.
Not all of Velazquez’s
paintings depicted contemporary scenes. Like most Western artists of his
era, Velazquez had plenty of experience in portraying religious
subjects. A number of his canvases depicted scenes of beatification,
attempts to portray the divine in all of its sumptuousness.
With “Christ Crucified“, however, Velazquez took the opposite approach. The painting is pared-down and understated. There is no background, merely a dark area with a few token shadows to help emphasise the central figure. The cross itself is plain and unadorned, the delicate details – such as the grain in the wood – serving only to emphasise the everyday nature of its materials.
Christ himself is
similarly unadorned. Velazquez makes no attempt to portray the agonises
of Christ’s passion, and simply shows the Messiah’s head bowed. His hair
runs, like blood, down his face.
The only hint of the
divine about this largely unclothed figure is the halo – and even that
is relatively modest, a subtle cream-coloured glow. We are asked to look
upon this figure – to behold the man – and contemplate his very
physicality – his flesh, his hair, the thorns of his crown, the cloth of
his coverings, the iron of his nails. The image is composed with
geometric evenness and neatness, an understated structure which provides
a startling contrast with the significance of the subject matter.