Sunday, February 21, 2016

Grunewald's Crucifixion - the Body

During this last meditation on Grünewald’s depiction of the crucifixion of Christ, we focus today on the body of Jesus, wrapped in a loincloth. Most of the crucified were nailed naked to intensify the shame. Here we see the body lacerated by the previous flogging, leaving many marks which bled profusely. Some splinters are still stuck to his body. Even the cloth is ripped, showing that the flogging soldiers showed no mercy at all, and lashed him all over his body. To the casual observer, Grünewald’s Crucifixion evokes empathy in the face of another’s torment. Through the eyes of faith the Christian disciple is led a step further. For in pondering this image we can be moved through beauty to enter into the redemptive meaning of Christ’s suffering. For through this visual homily, Grünewald, the painter, encourages us along the Lenten journey to persevere in our own daily patterns of dying and rising to new life.
This painting was commissioned for the Antoinite monastery at Isenheim, painted between 1510 and 1515 and was intended to give support to patients in the monastic hospital. Christ appears hideous, his skin swollen and torn as a result of the flagellation and torture that He endured. Even the horizontal beam of the cross looks tired as it sags with the weight of Christ’s body adding to the mood of the moment. This was understandably a powerful image in a hospital that specialized in caring for those suffering from skin complaints. In this painting, we are hemmed in by the immensities of darkness, alone with pain, forced to face the truth. The Old Testament often talks of a “suffering servant”, and obviously Grünewald's Crucifixion comes to mind when we think of this metaphor. Gothic art had reached an electrifying greatness in this particular heart-wrenching painting.

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