Monday, November 3, 2014

The Last Resurrection

Resurrection of the Dead
from Book of Hours
French (Rouen), 1450-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3134, fol. 67v
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”
John 6:37-40 (Gospel for the feast of All Souls)

This year we are in the somewhat unusual situation where Sunday falls on November 2, the feast of All Souls, or as it is now called The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.  Consequently, the readings are a reflection of the theme of the day, the eventual resurrection of all the faithful departed at the end of time.   This is the opening scene of the Last Judgment, also called the Second Coming of Christ, when Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead”, as both the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds tell us.

The Last Judgment is one of the most often imagined scenes in the entire history of art.  At one time nearly every church had a rendition of it, either as a painting or as sculpture.  The great cathedrals of medieval Europe, both Romanesque and Gothic, usually included the scene in the tympanum of their central portals.  If it was not there, it could be found elsewhere.  Most parish churches, no matter how modest, usually included the painted scene in their interiors.  Painters, both north and south, included it among their works and some of the greatest artists are known for their versions, among them Rogier van der Weyden and, of course, Michelangelo. 

But it is the detail at the beginning, the subject of today’s Gospel, the raising of the dead that I will be looking at here.   How do these artists imagine that event to be?  In what way do they see the dead coming back to life?
Resurrection of the Dead
from Book of Pericopes of Henry II
German (Reichenau), 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4452, fol. 201v
The earliest image that I have been able to find in a brief survey of resources comes from the justly famous Book of Pericopes (readings for the Mass) painted at the monastery of Reichenau for the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II in 1007-1008.  The scene is fairly simply set.  The angels blow their trumpets, while devils spit and the dead arise from their graves.  Almost all the dead seem happy to be awakened, although one man, right in the middle of the bottom half of the image, seems a bit confused by the event and another seems to be making a sign of annoyance toward one of the angels. But on the whole, the mood is a happy one.

Nicholas of Verdun, Resurrection of the Dead
from Klosterneuburg Altarpiece
Belgian, 1181
Klosterneuburg, Monastery Church
One hundred and eighty years later the mood seems to be similar in the plaque from the great Klosterneuburg Altarpiece by Nicholas of Verdun.    Some of the dead spring from their tombs,  while others seem a bit dazed. 

However, a more somber mood had already begun to appear.  The Last Judgment scene had begun to appear as the primary decoration over the entrance portals of the Romanesque cathedrals.  The idea of a self-judgment by each of the dead begins to appear.  Not all arise in the expectation of a heavenly destination.

At Autun Cathedral in the Burgundy region of eastern France, one of the greatest of these cycles, by the sculptor Gislebertus, was completed between 1130 and 1146.  Gislebertus tells his story in almost comic book fashion.  His souls arise as already marked by their eventual destination.  Those who are destined for Paradise arise with joy. 

Gislebertus, Saved Souls Rising
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

While those who are destined for Hell arise with fear.  
Gislebertus, Damned Souls Rising
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

As they come to the moment of final judgment, the fear of the damned turns to horror as they are dragged into the claws of the devils that transport them to Hell.  
Gislebertus, The Damned
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

Meanwhile the saved rejoice and cling to the angels who have awakened them like small children clinging to their mothers.
Gislebertus, Saved Souls
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

Still, the awakening of the dead continued to be a source of rejoicing or at least a cause of hope for most of the souls shown being raised in all the representations of the event in all of medieval Europe.   Most images of the raising of the dead present the souls rising filled with hope and joy, marked by their gestures of prayer or rejoicing.  Those images in which the entire Last Judgment scene is shown reflect the same division between hopeful saved and fear-filled damned as was seen in the Romanesque Last Judgments. 
Souls Rising
from Last Judgment
French, 1230
Reims, Cathedral
Souls Rising
from Last Judgment
German (Saxon), ca. 1300
Zschella, Evangelical Church of the Trinity

Giotto, Saints and Resurrection of the Dead
from Last Judgment
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena Chapel
Master of the Parement de Narbonne, Resurrection of the Dead
from Tres Belles Heures of Jean de Berry
French (Paris), ca. 1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 169

Resurrection of the Dead
from Last Judgment
German , 1401-1415
Herzberg, Church of St. Mary
Lorenzo Monaco, Resurrection of the Dead
from Antiphonary
Italian, 1406
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection

Robinet Testard, Resurrection of the Dead
from Book of Hours
French (Poitiers), 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1001, fol. 109r

Master of the Orleans Triptych, Resurrection of the Dead
French, ca. 1500
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection

After the Black Death ravaged the population of Europe in the fourteenth century images of death became more macabre, making the images of the Last Judgment more horrifying, at least for the damned.  
Master of the Triumphs of Petrarch
from Allegory of the Victory of Fame
French (Rouen), 1503
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 594, fol. 178v
The saved still rise with hope and joy, but the damned begin to show more fear and horror. 

We can see this in the scenes from several famous works, by Rogier van der Weyden (and other northern artists who followed him), Luca Signorelli and, of course, Michelangelo.
Rogier van der Weyden, Last Judgment Polyptych
Netherlandish, 1446-1452
Beaune, Musee de l'Hotel Dieu

Rogier van der Weyden, The Saved
Rogier van der Weyden, The Damned

Jan Prevost, Last Judgment
Belgian, 1525
Bruges, Groeninge Museum

Lucas van Leyden, Last Judgment
Dutch, 1527
Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal

Luca Signorelli, Resurrection of the Dead
Italian, 1499-1502
Orvieto, Chapel of San Brizio

Michelangelo, Last Judgment
Italian, 1437-1541
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s vision of the Last Judgment became the paradigm followed by most subsequent artists.  The dead are seen to be heaving themselves from the earth and violently expressing their hope or fear.  
Jean Cousin, Last Judgment
French, 1585
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Hieronymous Francken, Last Judgment
Flemish, 1605-1610
Salzburg, Residenzgalerie

Frans Francken II, Last Judgment
Flemish, 1608
Private Collection
Rubens, Last Judgment
Flemish, 1617
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

The element of fear begins to become more evident with each new image, until it begins to be the dominant emotion.  The earlier calm and joyful rising no longer held the imagination in the way that it once did.  

However, the element of joy and peace returned with the Romantic era and was joined to the sentimental idea of reunion between lovers and families.  This spirit continues into the current era.
Victor Mottez, Resurrection of the Dead
French, 1870
Lille, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Stanley Spencer, Resurrection, Cookham
English, 1924-1927
London, Tate Gallery
© M. Duffy, 2014

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