Monday, 19 October 2015

The Shroud Of Christ By Paul Vignon D.Sc (Fr) Part 32.

We need not allude to the works of Flemish artists of the second rank, nor to the German masters of the fifteenth century, such as Roger van der Veyden, or Bouts (whose Christ on the Cross is in the Berlin Gallery); none of these in truth rise above mediocrity. In the works of Rubens and Van Dyck we find incomparable ability, but none of that humble religious faith and feeling which is often displayed by lesser artists. We must perforce pay homage to the incomparable Christ at Emmaus by Rembrandt. Yes, here at last we have the true Christ of infinite goodness, love, and pitifulness, bearing on His countenance the unmistakable traces of His agony, yet emanating Divine mysterious light. In spite of these transcendent attributes, we return with satisfaction to the Christ of the Holy Shroud. Here the sacred image is instinct with greater majesty, but is imbued with so supernatural, so wonderful a calm, that as we gaze we think of His own words, " Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you, not as the world gives give I unto you," and the longings of the soul are appeased.

It is with some hesitation that we venture into the maze of the Italian schools in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; but here as elsewhere fine examples of the conception of Christ are rare. It would be easy to show that such artists as Verrocchio, Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, and many others have very insufficiently rendered the type of Christ. Of Ghirlandajo there is in the Berlin collection a Pieta, where a slender-bodied Christ is supported uneasily on the knees of His mother, but the picture leaves us cold and dissatisfied.

There is no coldness about the Christ of the Column by. Sodoma, the celebrated fresco at Sienna ; the figure might be that of a defeated gladiator, and is so pagan in feeling that we find ourselves almost regretting the miserable Christs of the Flemish school in the fifteenth century.

There is a Dead Christ by the Venetian master, Giovanni Bellini (fig. 29) which we may mention. The picture represents the Saviour supported by His Mother, while Saint John appears to be appealing to the spectators of this sad scene. We reproduce here a portion of the work, showing the anxious grief of the Mother, who gazes with anguish on her Son's face, in the hope of finding some last ray of hope. The Christ here is entirely human ; it is a man exhausted by the inutility of sacrifice, who has laid down his life and has definitely done with it.

Let us notice here the persistence, we might almost say the tyranny, of an art formula or tradition, which could impose itself on three such different painters as Perugino, Fra Bartolommeo, and Andrea del Sarto. The dead Christ is seen in profile; the Virgin or St. John sustains the body, while a number of spectators are grouped around in different attitudes. It is the stereotyped Italian method of treating the same scene which has been expressed by Quentin Matsys with so much force and feeling. There is no spontaneity in any one of the three painters we have mentioned; their rendering of Christ is in all equally smooth and conventional. The Christ of Andrea del Sarto, indeed, is neither more nor less than a poor representation of some beggar-man who, having fallen exhausted by the way, is surrounded by charitable and compassionate spectators.