Christianity, Culture, Vocation
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Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.
This “Crucifixion” is by Rubens, by the way, the great 17th century Baroque artist. Note the “great mass in motion,” the dynamic composition, the swirling energy, the combination of rigorous objective form and intense emotion. We see the same style in the music of Bach and the poetry of Milton.
The muscular laboring men and the real (instead of anemic/anorexic) Christ pointed that way!
Why do we see a painting like this as realism? The exaggerated musculature, alone, is closer to the Marvel Comics style than to a photograph.
Thank you Booklover@1. Being a new Lutheran, I heard this beautiful hymn a few weeks ago at church. The pastor had a class on “Songs of Lent” (we missed half of the sessions) and this was one of them. That is what I’m coming to love about the Lutheran Service Book. The hymns actually instruct in true doctrine and theology, something I didn’t find before in my non-denominational type churces, good as they were. I was very fortunate to have be raised in authentic bible-teaching churches all my life although they didn’t have the Lutheran teaching of the sacraments.
1) I don’t know how implausible is the notion of working men of impressive musculature. Assuming they had a proper diet, not terribly implausible, in my opinion. Today’s “working classes” push buttons on assembly lines and recline under broken kitchen sinks, tasks which are more conducive of beer guts than toned biceps. This was not the case prior to the industrial revolution.
2) More importantly, this art is regarded as realistic in contrast to the mystical religious art characteristic of the middle ages. Here, the emphasis is on the tangible, sweaty, corporeal humanity of the figures depicted, including Christ himself; in a general sense, objects and persons are proportioned in relation to each other as they would be in the “real” world of sense perception. In medieval art, objects and human beings (and spiritual beings!) were depicted and proportioned in relation to their importance in the spiritual life or symbolic hierarchy, entirely detached from their “actual” proportions in the tangible world. Notice in medieval devotional paintings the enlarged heads, ethereal bodies, odd gestures, unconventional colors, halos, etc.
Cincinnatus, yes and yes. But overall, it still isn’t realistic.
I agree, Tom. I think these men would be leaner. They walked a lot and ate lean foods like fish. Unless they were massive bricklayers or something. The painting is wonderful, though.
“Realism” is its own style, becoming prominent in the 19th century, thanks largely to the rise of a materialist worldview. “Real” always hinges on what you think reality is. 19th century realism emphasized literal appearance largely because that’s the only reality it acknowledged. All art, including “realism,” conveys a vision of the world. The Baroque style wanted to emphasize, as Cincinnatus put so well, the physicality of the Christian faith. So, yes, the bodies may be exaggerated a little to emphasize their corporeality. But that’s the point of the artwork.
Booklover@1 – I thank you also – that wonderful hymn was a beautiful beginning to my Easter Saturday today.
I’m fine with the fact that the Rubens isn’t literally realistic. Indeed, I enjoy it precisely because it’s not literalist in style. That’s a great distinction, Dr. Veith, and one I should have made myself @ 4.
“This “Crucifixion” is by Rubens, by the way, the great 17th century Baroque artist. Note the “great mass in motion,” the dynamic composition, the swirling energy, the combination of rigorous objective form and intense emotion. We see the same style in the music of Bach and the poetry of Milton.”
I remember back in college in my liberal art classes (music, literature, art), several of the far-left students would complain they were being forced to study Christianity because Christianity was so dominant historically in these fields.
In related (?) news, painter Thomas Kinkade died Friday at age 54.
While it may not be realistic to have so many well-muscled men at the crucifixion, the surface anatomy is pretty accurate. Really big muscles really do look like that. Those painters really studied the human body well to portray it so accurately.
Beautiful picture. This one is right up there with Rembrandt’s work.
Incidentally, I found out a surprising thing concerning some Reformed/Calvinists: they believe in no images of the Trinity whatsoever, even if the intent is not to worship those images.
Two/thirds of the Trinity are a little hard to picture, except in symbols! ;
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