One of the most iconic symbols in history is the cross. This symbol represents hope and redemption to Christians and people of faith. The cross reveals the sacrifice Jesus endured in order to establish grace and reconciliation between God and man. The Catholic Church has been known to provide Christianity with beautiful imagery depicting biblical figures and capturing the beauty of the gospel message. Catholic art also has played a leading role in the history and development of Western art since at least the 4th century. Emphasis on visual art provided a plethora of inspiration for the world and influenced many eras of art history including Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo periods. These depictions and designs have become sacred art, holding great historical and religious significance.
In honor of Easter, this blog post will focus on how Italian carvers and painters depicted the Passion of Christ and the significance within church art and design. When studying ecclesiastical art and design, one realizes there is great purpose behind the details. The crucifix is a great example of this. Each crucifix shares many similarities in how they are created. Christ is shown being held up on a cross to visualize the punishment He endured at Calvary. His hands are pierced, chest is exposed, and He is wearing a linen cloth as a sign of modesty and respect. He is wearing a crown of thorns has explained in the Bible. His body language is usually identical in each depiction and He is typically flexed towards His right side.
After visiting many churches during her Italian travels for Interi, Jean O’Reilly Barlow noticed many interesting details with each crucifix and figure of Christ. One detail she noticed is Christ’s head is almost always cocked to the right side. Many art historians believe it is because Mary is shown at his right side. Another explanation is that the Bible records that, “Jesus is at the right-hand of the Father.” Therefore, they illustrate His head leaning to the right.
Another detail Jean noticed was the different colors that Christ is painted as. Many Eurocentric depictions paint him as white. Although Christ is believed to be brown as the most historically accurate portrayal, many European churches paint him to be white as the people in the area likely identify with that coloring. In a few Tuscan churches, Jean came across black-painted figures of Christ. When she asked her friend who was an Italian restorer and church broker why some are painted black, he responded, “Because Christ was for all people.”
There are other dark-skinned depictions of Christ in Italian paintings and figures in churches that historians believe could relate to authenticity. One of these scholars, Monique Scheer, believes the reason for this connection is the perceived age of the figures and the idea that these depictions are more accurate to the historical Jesus since many of the works are eastern in origin and since He likely had dark skin.
With these details in mind, it reveals the beauty and craftsmanship that went into each eccelesiastical artifact. Even though these pieces were once works of art that adorned churches throughout Europe, they became fragmented over time. But the sacred relics still hold significance and history in each detail. Behind every figure of Christ or crucifix holds significance and meaning.
Through passion and preservation, the figurative elements represent a powerful message of resurrection and transformation – not just in a literal sense of what each symbol has come to represent, but also in metaphor. The sacred ecclesiastical artifacts that were once broken and discarded have been restored into a new sculptural work. Through contemporary interpretations and natural specimens, each historical relic transforms into something even more beautiful than before. And that’s the true message of Easter.
Wish you a happy and hope-filled Resurrection Sunday.
The Interi girls