Renaissance Depictions of the Crucifixion

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Renaissance Depictions of the Crucifixion

The Renaissance was known as a period of revival or rebirth of cultural awareness and learning that took place during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and, perhaps most of all, as an era of the individual. During the Renaissance, art was a branch of knowledge - a way to showcase God and his creations, science, anatomy, discoveries and to inspire people to take pleasure in the world around them. Christian art during this period was produced to enhance the worship of saintly figures by church patrons. Paintings were used, not only to tell biblical stories, but to form an emotional connection between patrons and the church. Artists during this period strived to portray events of religious importance with high drama to make a lasting impression. One such event was the crucifixion of Christ, a subject dealt with by many Renaissance artists.

One of these artists, Tommaso di Ser Giovanni de Simone Guide Cassai, better known as Masaccio, was perhaps the first great painter of the Italian renaissance. His innovations in the use of scientific perspective inaugurated the modern era in painting. Born in San Giovanni Valdarno on December, 21, 1401, Masaccio was, to quote Libero de Liberi "the youngest of all painters who were young before, during and after him who, in his few youthful years, worked the miracle of awakening in painting, breathing life into it at least real and earthy, an urgency it had never had before." Because he created a turning point in the history of painting with his own work and because he was later followed by numerous painters of great distinction, Masaccio is almost unanimously considered to be the "founder of renaissance art".

Renaissance Depictions of the Crucifixion3

One of Masaccio's most famous works is The Trinity, which was painted between 1425 and 1428. It is an excellent example of Masaccio's mastery of mathematical proportion in relation to scientific perspective. It consists of two levels of unequal height. Christ is represented on the top half in a coffered, barrel-vaulted chapel. On one side is the Virgin Mary, on the other, St. John. The second level, underneath the alter, is a tomb containing a skeleton, which may represent Adam. The vanishing point between the two levels, which brings both views together, is the masonry alter positioned at the eye level of the spectator. By doing this, he has created the illusion of an actual structure. His use of scientific perspective is "projected so accurately in terms of perspective principles" (Frederick Hartt.) that, when first completed, it was thought that Brunelleschi had actually done the painting, which shows us the powerful influence that Brunelleschi must have had on Masaccio.

Matthias Grünewald, the next artist whose work I liked, is considered one of the greatest German painters of his age. His works on religious themes achieve a visionary expressiveness through intense color and agitated line. Misnamed by 17th century sources, Grünewald may have originally been named Matthias, Mathias or Mathis Gothardt-Neithardt, and was born in Würzburg, perhaps in 1475. Grünewald's achievement in the arts remains one of the most striking in the history of northern Europe. His 10 or so paintings and approximately 35 drawings that survive are jealously guarded and carefully scrutinized today. His dramatic and intensely expressive approach to his subject can best be observed in three of his paintings of the Crucifixion (in Basle, in Washington and in Karlsruhe).

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Considered to be his masterpiece are the wings of the altarpiece of the Antonite monastery at Isenheim in southern Alsace, dated to 1515. There are three views of the altarpiece. The first, with the wings closed, is a Crucifixion showing a harrowingly detailed twisted and bloody figure of Christ on the cross in the center, flanked on the left by the Madonna being comforted by John and a...
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