Christ, the Challenger?

The more I read Carol Iannone’s writing, the more I like it, and I like her ruminations on Rembrandt’s Portrait of Christ.

I like this passage, in particular:

There is no halo of course, no artificial glow, no effeminate aspect, no gushing compassion, no indiscriminate forgiveness pouring forth in unconditional love. This was not the Jesus who, as one Episcopal bishop insisted, accepts us even in our “fat slobby selves.” This Jesus is rather more challenging than comforting. This is a Christ with standards, I thought half jokingly, a Christ for conservatives! A Christ who sized you up, maybe the way he sized up the chatty Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well or the rich young man who thought so well of himself. Where are you now, viewer, he might be saying, what’s going on in you, are you ready for me? What are you holding onto, what worthless baggage are you carrying so that you can’t come my narrow way? You couldn’t think of anything petty while in the purview of that calm, knowing, intelligent, and potentially redemptive gaze.

And then there are his hands, crossed, resting on his chest, the left fully visible, the right barely so, covering his heart. Something in this pose bespeaks a certain sadness, but also a readiness, an awareness, an acceptance, of his own oncoming agony. You can trust me, he might be saying, for my part I will do what I have to do. But again, what about you?

I never had the chance to study – like Churchill, “I never went to University,” and had the privilege of time and hours to spend in museums, looking and thinking and maybe taking a few classes in appreciation and history. It is a privilege to study; we forget that sometimes. When I hear a truly transcendent piece of music, or glean some small understanding – all by myself – upon gazing at a work of art, I feel a little bit of that privilege. I’ve never seen this portrait of Christ before, but I am glad to have happened upon it with Iannone’s fine exposition.

A privilege. :-)

UPDATE: Crisis Magazine has a smart article on “Catholic Art” which you might enjoy.

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About Elizabeth Scalia