Friday, May 13, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – Hovering Over the Tomb

Jacopo di Cione and Workshop, The Resurrection
Italian, 1370-1371
London, National Gallery

The image of Jesus climbing out of the tomb represents a first step in imagining the Resurrection.  However, it is a rather primitive step and does not really capture the sense of the event hinted at, though never described, by the Gospels.

The first step toward a more dynamic rendering of the Resurrection event is the "type" in which the Risen Jesus hovers over the tomb.  Most commonly Jesus is shown "standing" in the sky above the tomb while the guards below sleep, cower or gesticulate in wonder.

The type would appear to have developed around the end of the fourteenth century.  I have found no earlier traces, though they may exist.  Its greatest popularity occurred during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  By 1625 it had virtually disappeared.

Among the most important examples of this type are those by some famous Quattrocento artists.

Fra Angelico –  Here the Risen Jesus appears in a mandorla above the tomb as the women listen to the angel announce the Resurrection. The presence at the far left of the picture of a Dominican friar in prayer suggests that this image should be understood more as vision for meditation than a narrative of the actual Resurrection event.

Fra Angelico, Resurrection, the Three Women at the Tomb
Italian, 1440-1442
Florence, Museo di San Marco

Master of the Osservanza  -  This master sets the scene in a garden area at dawn.  The Risen Jesus hovers in a golden mandorla above the still sealed tomb, while the guards cower.  One looks up in wonder.

Master of the Osservanza, The Resurrection
Italian, ca. 1440-1445
Detroit, Institute of Arts

The terracotta sculptor, Luca della Robbia, imagines the Risen Jesus hovering above the tomb, supported by a cloud, and surrounded by angels.  The guards remain asleep on the ground.

Luca della Robbia, Resurrection
Italian, 1442-1445
Florence, Cathedral

Francesco Botticini imagined the Risen Jesus in a reduced mandorla floating above the tomb.  The guards remain mostly asleep, although one looks up with an expression of awe.

Francesco Botticini, Resurrection
Italian, c. 1465-1470
New  York, The Frick Collection

Giovanni Bellini –  In this image the Risen Jesus “stands” on a cloud above the tomb, holding the banner of victory, while the guards are seen in various poses of fear and astonishment. The women can be seen approaching in the landscape background.
Giovanni Bellini, Resurrection
Italian, 1475-1479
Berlin, Staatliche Museen

Pinturicchio – Like Fra Angelico’s this image suggests that it is to be read as a meditation on the Resurrection, due to the presence at the far left of a portrait of Pope Alexander VII, the notorious Rodrigo Borgia.
Pinturicchio, The Risen Christ Adored by Alexander VII
Italian, 1492-1494
Vatican City, Vatican Museums, Borgia Apartments

Many other artists also used the hovering iconography  for manuscript illuminations and panel, canvas and wall paintings.  The Risen Jesus is sometimes shown in a mandorla, or supported by angels or simply floating in the air without support.

Jean Poyer, Resurrection
from a Missal
French (Tours), c. 1495-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 495, fol. 50v
Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian, Resurrection
from the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal
Flemish, c. 1495
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 52, fol. 146v

Benedetto di Silvestro, Resurrection
from Vita Christi
Italian (Lombardy), c. 1500-1550
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 508, fol. 39r

Giovanni Busi, aka Cariani, Resurrection of Christ between Saints Jerome and John the Baptist and the 
Donors Ottaviano and Domitilla
Italian, 1520s
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Titian, The Resurrection
Italian, 1542-1544
Urbino, Palazzo Ducale
After 1600 the Risen Jesus stands on a cloud in nearly every picture.  However, the number of pictures of this type diminishes at this point in time.

Anonymous, Resurrection
Dutch, c. 1600
Alcester (Warwickshire, UK), Coughton Court
Giovanni Baglione, Resurrection
Italian, c. 1601
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Fray Juan Bautista Maino, Resurrection
Spanish, c. 1612-1614
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Francesco Buoneri called Cecco del Caravaggio, Resurrection
Italian, 1619-1620
Chicago, Art Institiute
These paintings of the hovering Christ present a static, devotional image of the moment of Resurrection. This “type” seems to have had a much shorter life than the image of Christ climbing out of the tomb.  One can see it as an intermediate stage in the iconography of the Resurrection, between Christ climbing from the tomb and later more energetic, even “explosive” images.

More to come.

© M. Duffy, 2011, revised 2017