Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Ways of Seeing Religious Diversity Throughout Various Centuries of Art

           Throughout history religion has been a widely seen art subject. How have artists depicted their religion differently than others’ religions and during different centuries? Scenes from the Passion of the Christ by Master of Delft is a continuous story across a three-panel scene of Jesus’ last day completed in 1510. This painting is bold and emotional. The characters pop off of the canvas with a 3D appearance and draws people in closer. We are first drawn to the painting because of the bright colors on the clothing of the people in the work, but we stay to study just a bit deeper. The clothing is painted so brilliantly it looks like touchable velvet, which is such a contrast from the hard stone of the buildings and the soft sand behind. How is it that this painter was able to show movement in this still painting? The answer lies in the barely noticed features of the trees’ leaves in the background swaying to one side, the horses’ tail kinked with motion, the twists in the fabric on the women’s heads and in the coats, and the whipping clouds moved by wind. The artist has made it a point to show us the movement going on throughout this sequence of events because of the importance in every aspect of the story. He begins the journey with Jesus first being led to take up his heavy cross and winds us through the background while we watch him carry his cross to the mountain, be hung on it until death, and taken down afterwards. We know this is a painful series by the emotional facial expressions painted on the onlookers of these events. There are those mourning with tears and a terrible-looking sadness filling their eyes, and there are those looking smug with some even pointing fingers and sticking out their tongues at Jesus, which makes us both depressed and angry, which is a difficult task for an artist to complete.
The Scenes from the Passion of the Christ brings to life an agonizing story repeatedly passed down in multiple forms of Christianity, but how does this type of work differ from work done by Greek artists? We see the differences in Claude’s work completed a century later in 1644 in Landscape with Narcissus and Echo. This piece is already vastly different at the first glance. The colors are much darker and more earthy tones are used. The trees contain minute branches and twigs that, even though being so small, are easily distinguishable from the surrounding background. The gold-yellow tone covering the background castle and mountains looks like fog in the horizon enabling us to still see the exquisite features of the town in the distance, even windows on the buildings are recognizable. The main features of the painting, however, are the characters surrounding the glassy pond. Unlike the depiction of Jesus in Scenes from the Passion of the Christ as a human going through struggles, Claude represents his gods as they are. Narcissus is seen falling in love with himself by viewing his reflection in the pond, but it is difficult to make out much emotion on his face because not much detail is given. Another god is shown sprawled out on the bank of the pond as if she is posing for an artist to draw her, and definitely looking superior. Echo can be seen in the trees overlooking her love Narcissus, with her hand up at her mouth as if she is trying to get his attention, but he is too busy looking at his own reflection.
Both of these paintings are incredible, yet completely different. The first is a bold, colorful piece showing an entire series of events with multiple emotions on the people’s faces, and the artist’s God seen humbled, much like he is said to be in stories throughout Christianity. The work by Claude has much darker coloration with the gods being shown how they are told to be in Greek stories, both intimidating and beautiful all at once.

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