Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Two Contrasting Interpretations

April 18th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

From a Lenten series in 2011.

Previously here


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“Mond Crucifixion” by Raphael Sanzio

“Christ Between Two Thieves” by Peter Paul Rubens

In this post we see two contrasting interpretations of the crucifixion, each coming out of a different historical period. The Mond Crucifixion (or Crocifissione Gavari; the names are of former owners) is a High Renaissance painting by Raphael Sanzio. The other a painting, Christ, Between Two Thieves by Peter Paul Rubens, is from the later Baroque period.

Reflecting the Renaissance interest in a rebirth of the Classical Greek and Roman intellectual values based on reason, Raphael’s Renaissance painting expresses idealized stability and harmony. Ruben’s painting, on the other hand, is exciting and dramatic, reflecting an interest in engaging the emotions. Raphael’s Crucifixion is serene and peaceful.  Ruben’s is calamitous and noisy.

Raphael deploys design principles in a typically Renaissance fashion to create his image. The design is balanced symmetrically; the right side pretty much mirrors the left in the placement of shapes and distribution of lights and darks. His composition carefully arranges forms to create a predictable pattern of vertical lines. Forms are subtly modeled and rendered in clear, ‘clean’ colors. The arrangement of shapes and forms reflects an underlying idealized geometric plan based on the triangle and circle.

Raphael shows us that even Christ’s horrendous crucifixion reflects God’s ultimate plan. All is well in this painting; all is for a purpose regardless of appearances to the contrary.

Rubens deploys design principles for a whole other purpose. He has been commissioned by the so-called Counter Reformation Church to counter the Protestant reformers’ attack on Catholic emotion, piety, practices, and use of art. He does so by upping the ante and dramatically stimulating the emotions. In contrast to Renaissance artists Baroque artists, like Rubens, use forms, shapes, colors, and all the other elements of design in a forceful, asymmetrical composition. Forms fall into diagonal arrangements trusting us into the action. Contrasting diagonals create tension. Light and dark areas dramatically contrast creating a kind of visual thunder. Bodies are twisted or contorted. Colors are mixed and textures contrasted. In these ways Rubens creates dramatic movement and an unstable environment that arouses interest in the viewer and invites emotional involvement. We enter into the event. The image invites not so much contemplation as emotional attachment and commitment.

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