Inspired Through Art: The Crucifixion and The Harrowing of Hell

Authored by Linus Meldrum in Issue #4.1 of The Catechetical Review

An Anonymous Renaissance Master, 1550-1575

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn 3:13).

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:32).

The anonymous artist who painted these two images was likely a member of the workshop of Hans Mielich, a German Renaissance artist. Mielich painted at the court of Albert V, the Duke of Bavaria. In 1536, he moved to Regensberg and met Albrecht Altdorfer. Altdorfer was one of the first Renaissance artists who developed landscape painting as a form in itself. Altdorfer’s images had a sweep and grandeur that incorporated nature, crowds, and expressive painterliness. Mielich, and likely his workshop, also found Altdorfer’s expansive Northern Renaissance vision a powerful and useful way to depict the drama of the Life of Christ. Mielich and members of his workshop completed an important altarpiece in the Church of Our Beautiful Lady in Ingolstadt. The “anonymous artist” represented here is considered to be one of these assistants.

The two works are expressive of the Passion and Death of Christ but also include the suffering of others, as well as a blessed outcome of the sacrifice on Calvary: the Harrowing of Hell. The choices made by the artist indicate his contemplation of the meaning of these Paschal Mystery events.

Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”, and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (CCC 613)

The artist has selected points of view and compositional formats that accentuate the collective meaning of these two events. The artist is also a person of his time—a Renaissance thinker and image-maker using techniques that show his familiarity with perspective and space represented with foreground, middle ground, and background. He also incorporates an intense color and light, using the oil medium to make the painted image rich with not only chiaroscuro—light and shadow—but also the glisten of luminosity as in the armor of the centurion traditionally known as Longinus, the man who opened Christ’s side with a lance and declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54).

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This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

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