On the third day after his crucifixion, the earth quaked, the Roman guards fell as if dead, angels appeared, and Jesus rose from the tomb. Though resurrected, the Gospels suggested that he was not in a physical form. He cautioned Mary Magdalene to not touch him yet. He appeared to and disappeared from various followers and his disciples. They might see him, but not recognize him until he re-enacted events from his life, such as instructing Peter and his fellow fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, or teaching and feeding those who sought him out. He gave instructions for leading his church, then ascended into heaven. This is real George Lucas and Steve Spielberg sort of material.
Hendrick van der Broeck divides the canvas in half with a vertical line formed by the sarcophagus on the ground, Jesus levitating over it, with possibly only one foot on the lid, and a rainbow aura of light radiating around him. The soldiers fall back, reflexively lifting their shields to protect them. Some draw their swords, but appeared overwhelmed as they are about to tumble over their fellow soldiers who are already prostrate. The landscape and sky are nearly obscured with all this activity.
Pinturicchio also presents Jesus as floating in a golden mandala over the sarcophagus. This time the lid has fallen off, with only one end visible behind the burial site. Two soldiers kneel and bow their heads, while a third gestures, as if calling out to someone else to look at what has occured. A forth stands behind the sarcophagus, looking up. They are in awe of what they see, rather than in shock, as in the earlier painting. To the left a man in a golden robe kneels with his hands in a position of prayer. Wonder how much that cost him.
A fantastic landscape is visible behind the scene. To the left is a mushroom shaped hill, with the suggestion of a cross. Spire-like hills thrust upward. A conifer and a deciduous tree flank either side of Jesus. Do these represent the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, and the cross on which he was crucified? In the distance, someone dressed in red walks along a path. Might this be Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene is the first of several women to come to Jesus’ tomb. She finds the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, Jesus burial shroud formless, and some shiny angels hanging about. When Jesus appears, calling to her, she mistakes him for the gardener. But, then she realize who has addressed her. She reaches out to Jesus, but he asks her to not touch him yet. Cenni di Francesco capture this moment, as Mary Magdalene rushes forward, hands out-stretched. Jesus almost leans back, even though his hand is extended. The gap between their hands is minimal, but monumental at the same time. Though their hands to not meet, their eyes do.
Jesus next appears to two followers who are leaving Jerusalem after the Passover feast. They tell him about the events of Jesus arrest and crucifixion. At some point, Jesus reveals himself, as Scarsellino portrays in his painting, in the Borghese Gallery. One man appears to be pointing back at Jerusalem, as if he is in mid-sentence. The other strides forward, grasping Jesus’ arm, as if he has just realized with whom they walk. Jesus instructs them to go ahead to inform the disciples that he is risen.
Jesus makes several appearance to the disciples. The first time, Thomas is not present. He, as his nickname implies, doubted, demanding to put his hands on the nail wounds in Jesus hands and feet, and the place where the spear pierced his side. When Jesus appears again, he shows these to Thomas. Though the Gospel stories place Thomas and the disciples inside a room, Ludovico Mazzolino locates Jesus and Thomas alone, in a landscape. But, this is not a naturalistic landscape. Half of the painting appears to be fields of green and amber. The upper half, is so blue, that while we can see buildings and walls, they appear more heavenly than earthly. The disciples will live in that world of earthly harvests for a while. The vision behind Thomas might be of that place where the Father has many rooms awaiting them.
I am going to pass on showing any pictures of Jesus ascending into heaven, not on theological grounds, but they are just too populated with saints and patrons who are not recorded in with the Gospels. And, I really don’t like those baby-heads-with-wings-but-no-bodies floating about in the clouds. That is just creepy to me. So, unless I decide to read The Acts of the Apostles, or go on a martyrdom-of-the-saints binge, this will conclude our exploration of the Art of the Gospels.