I’m not a Christian, although I was raised in the Church and was a religious child. I lost my faith when puberty hit. C.S. Lewis stopped making sense, and I took all the wrong lessons from Dostoyevsky’s characters.
But I still like to observe the holidays one way or another. I read Bible chapters, check out the Book of Common Prayer, put Bach on, and look at paintings.
Nearly everything but attending an actual church.
So I was looking at reproductions of Mantegna, whose Dead Christ is one of the greatest paintings ever made. Then I found his version of the resurrection. Two versions, in fact.
His painting of the resurrection is more traditional and triumphant. Christ, surrounded by angels, rises from the tomb, golden rays radiating from him. Clearly, a divine presence. And it’s a masterful painting.
I also found his drawing of the resurrection. It may have been a preliminary study.
I prefer the drawing.
Here, Jesus is the least resurrected in any art work I’ve ever seen.
He bears the traces of his sufferings on the cross. His eyes are sad, as if He can’t forget the souls He saw when He harrowed Hell. Deep lines score His face.
The tensions between the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of the Son of God are hard to understand. It’s one of those mysteries the priests and preachers like to explain, but it’s completely paradoxical. Artists tend to paint Jesus as unmarked. He’s a man, 33, but idealized, and depicted as more the way the Greeks portrayed their gods.
In Mantegna’s drawing, though, you see Jesus, or rather, Yeshua of Nazareth, a man. A man who’s worked hard going up and down Israel for three years, then was tortured, and then was executed with one of the most excruciating methods possible.
It’s a truthful drawing. It shows an experience I can understand, and this work reveals a history that leaves marks behind which even the miracle of the resurrection cannot erase.