Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion
Have you ever read through each of the gospels in the bible, only to find that when recalling a particular story from one of the gospels, a compiled scene comes to mind? This phenomenon is something that most people experience when trying to remember details of a story. The artist Konrad von Soest must have realized this early long ago. His painting of Jesus’s crucifixion, entitled The Crucifixion, includes details form various gospels. Originally as the centerpiece of a polyptych, The Crucifixion is the only signed piece of art by Konrad von Soest. The polyptych as a whole includes panels on both sides of the center artwork, which are divided into quadrants. These quadrants contain depictions of other biblical texts like, Jesus’s nativity.
As an artist, Soest was well known. He was born around 1370 in Dortmund, and he died soon after 1422. He was the most significant Westphalia artist and painted in the so-called soft style of International Gothic. He played a leading role in the introduction of this style to Northern Germany around 1390 and influenced German and Northern European painting into the late 15th century. In The Crucifixion, we can see this soft-style being used. In the foreground three holy women (the three Maries) surround the figure of the Virgin, who has collapsed. They are not crushed by great despair, but rather seized with gentle, languid sorrow. Indeed, the whole representation is characterized by a soft mood rather than by dramatic qualities. The only exception of this is St John, who is standing behind the Maries, raising his hands passionately towards Jesus.
This painting seems to be a portrayal of all of the gospels in the bible. As mentioned before, The Virgin Mary is in attendance of Christ’s crucifixion, which is only detailed in The Gospel of John. Also there is an old man stabbing Jesus’s side with a spear. This detail is again only mentioned in John. The officials break the thieves’ legs but, they do not do this to Jesus. Instead he is poked with a spear. This is due to the fact that a sacrifice was not allowed to have any broken bones.
The gospel of Luke is also depicted in this painting. This is seen when looking closely at the crucified thieves. Above the heads of the two thieves are an angel and a demon. Only in Luke, is there mention of dialogue from the two thieves. One of the thieves taunts Jesus while on the cross asking him to free himself since he is so powerful. The other thief, however, declares that while they are guilty of stealing, Jesus has done nothing wrong. He then asks Jesus to remember him when he enters his kingdom. This is the only story that details this conversation, which supports the reasoning behind the angel and demon placed overhead the two thieves seen in the painting.
There are a couple of characters seen that are mentioned in every gospel. Pilate is seen wearing a crown and holds a long staff, while pointing upwards with his forefinger, in an attempt to convince the knight in a red cloak, next to him, about the divinity of Christ. Also, holding an inscribed scroll in his lifted right hand, the centurion with the red helmet is similarly attempting to convince the nobleman beside him. The inscription translates to, “He was the son of God, indeed.” These words are what the centurion is credited with saying in each of the gospels.
It is interesting to think about why Soest chose to portray The Crucifixion with such soft mannerisms, while bringing together information from various gospels of the bible. Even more interesting is that the bible was not translated to German until the 1500s. Since this artist lived in a region of Germany and painted this piece almost one hundred years prior, one must wonder what his source was. If he was unable to read the bible in a different language maybe he had a close friend who knew the details of the story quite vividly. Which ever it may be one thing remains certain. Soest believed in a collaboration of events during Jesus’s crucifixion and thought the event contained a rather soft sacred feel in opposition to a loud dramatic one.

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