Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Shroud Of Christ By Paul Vignon D.Sc (Fr) Part 31.

We must give a special place apart to a sculptured head of Christ dating from the fifteenth century which is in the collections of the Louvre (fig. 26). This head has since become come classic, and may be found reproduced with hardly any modification in the crucifixes which have since been made. How strong is the influence of a fashion will be realized when we find in a different country, and at a much later date, that Guido Reni has taken this very head as his type and model, and reproduced it, though with some loss of power. It became in fact an artistic type, and as such was universally adopted. The head is expressive of the bitter moment in our Saviour's agony when He cries to His Father, " My God, My God,  why hast Thou forsaken Me ? "

It is not difficult to show that we cannot look to the Flemish school of Art to give us the ideal Christ—pitiful, loving, heroic. The Christ of Van Eyck is sufficiently well known ; it is a painting doubtless executed by that great artist about the year 1438, and is preserved to-day in the Gallery at Berlin. Nothing could be colder than this inexpressive Flemish countenance, with its enormous forehead and symmetrically arched eyebrows, rising above a pair of small piercing eyes. It is the head of a man who does not think, and from whose lips we have nothing to learn.

Roger van der Veyden, a pupil of Van Eyck, is more touched by his subject. At the National Gallery there is a Christ Crowned with Thorns by him, which is in many ways admirable. The eyes are full of tears ; the face is full of grief and pain, the lips are slightly open. He pardons his tormentors, but all grandeur is absent from the tragedy. The sufferer is feeble, the head too long, the eyes too small. Such a Christ as this is no voluntary sacrifice—He is suffering a martyrdom from which there is no escape ; He is a mere dreamer, a victim. In another work, the triptych of the Seven Sacraments, the artist has depicted a yet more miserable sufferer. This is at the Antwerp Gallery. It is a Christ upon the Cross.

Let us now turn to Quentin Matsys, that great master of the sixteenth century. We do not much care for his Christ, the Saviour of the World, at the National Gallery, which, gives the figure of Christ hard and wooden, beside an exquisite Virgin. Still less do we like The Holy Face at Antwerp, which is a grimacing head, without light and shadow, and with a mouth singularly contorted.

But, on the other hand, attention may well be arrested by two heads, which Matsys himself may have loved to place side by side as his own conception of the Divine model, one dead, the other living. The Christ in the Act of Blessing of the Antwerp Museum (fig. 27) may almost be said to radiate light, but in spite of the wonderful effect which the artist has produced there is a lack of power ; we look in vain for any trace of the sacrifice which marked the life of Christ throughout. But now let us turn to the central piece of the great Antwerp triptych, The Dead Christ (fig. 28). Here the artist's power amounts to genius. This is in truth one of the gems of Flemish Art ; but when we analyse this great work—the Christ is in very truth dead, dead without hope of resurrection—hope, as well as life, has gone out of the corpse. Thus one of the greatest artists in two of his best paintings has not been able quite to attain the ideal. The glorious living: Christ is without pity ; the dead Christ is without that hidden force which has changed the whole world.