22 April 2011

A passionate icon of transcendence...

El Greco's image of Christ bearing the cross has long been one of my favourites. It is some way from the rent and ragged figure of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, the ghastly green, split and suffering wooden icons I've seen in Catholic churches in Italy and Spain, or Holbein's appalling spent cadaver of The body of the dead Christ in the Tomb. It does little to communicate the real sufferings of the stations of the cross.  Jesus' forehead is only pricked, his wounds issuing only a trickle of blood. Yet the painting is tremendously evocative. Its atmosphere is not hot, but cool and overcast, thunderous and heavy. The Christ-figure illuminates this luminous gloom with a wan wistfulness. Much of the emotion of the image is communicated by Christ's soft expression and his feeling eyes, their gaze fixed on the uppermost firmament.  El Greco offers us a beautiful, passionate icon of transcendence, rather than evoking the pain and pathos of human suffering. 

Last year, I offered you this godless so-and-so's meditation on the power and human significance of Good Friday, which falls today.  I commend it to your interest again this year.

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