Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Realism of the Passion

Before the film The Passion of the Christ was released, predictions were that it would be unpopular because of its realistic portrayal of the sufferings of Christ. How wrong they were.

I have noticed that often Spanish depictions of the crucifixion, as well as Mexican and Filipino expressions by influence, have a particular realism. I have seen these bloody crucifixes and fainting, weeping bystanders in the Spanish missions and in some of the village churches of southern France.

On my recent visit to the Getty Museum, I was stopped by a very compelling Spanish Pieta from around 1490 by the Circle of Fernando Gallego. The realism is not as crude as profuse blood here. The lifeless emaciated Christ is still bleeding from his heart's wound, but the head of the corpse flops backward against the Virgin's hand. It is indeed finished.

My attention was drawn more to Mary who looks at us. I wondered: was her face really rendered ugly by the hand of this artist? I took a careful look. The image here does not offer the detail that close examination gives. In the original, you see her face is beautiful but visibly ravaged with her suffering. The puffy lines of a woman who has wept her heart out spill down her face. This was one of the most affecting depictions of the Passion that I have seen.

1 comment:

Love2Learn Mom said...

There's an interesting young-adult biography of a Spanish artist from the 1600s called "I Juan de Pareja" by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. The author indicates that it was common for artists in that place and at that time to observe executions and such in order to accurately depict their religious paintings. Pretty intense.