Ascension of Jesus by AnonymousSanta Clara Museum
The regulations established by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) directed the attention of parishioners and artificers to different episodes of Christ life, what resulted in pictorial or sculptural works made in a variety of techniques and styles.
The outcome of this interest in Christological themes is this painting from the 17th century, which address the episode of the Ascension of the Lord. According to the Gospel of Luke, source of this iconography, forty days after the Resurrection, Christ was taken up to heaven, after announcing to his disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The figure of Christ ascending in body and soul takes up more than half of the composition. According to Luke, the clouds hid the Lord, and those present did not see him again. In the painting, a blaze of golden light framed in an arc of clouds surrounds the ascended. Both elements are characteristic of the pictorial resource known as rompimiento de gloria,‘breaking of glory’, through which it is sought to distinguish the earthly plane, where the apostles are located, from the spiritual one, to which Christ ascends.
Almost imperceptible and marking even more the disjunction of the earthly and the celestial, we see heads of cherubs at the ends of the luminous rays that surround the Lord.
Dressed in a white habit, symbol of purity, and a red mantle, sign of his sacrifice and royalty, we see Christ with his arms outstretched and his gaze upward. Irradiations of dazzling golden color emanate from his head, alluding to his divinity and glory.
Intensely emphasized, the prominence of light, which is deployed in a large part of the canvas, would have strongly attracted the attention of the congregation, strengthening their astonishment.
The iconographic formula that inspired this work spread since the 16th century. The scene, which occurs when the apostles were returning from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, is depicted outdoors. Draws attention the emphasis on the feet of the Savior, which is because in the Ascension episode, Christ went up to heaven after stepping on the rock of the mountain. The imprint that his feet left made the rock one of the most famous and revered relics of the Middle Ages.
At the bottom of the composition, we see the apostles who, arranged in two groups of six located to one side and the other from the Lord, raise their gazes to heaven, manifesting with the gesture of their faces and arms the amazement of their vision. Identifying each disciple is difficult, because none of them is accompanied by their corresponding attributes.
Although the reference of this representation would be Lucas, the painter moved away from the Gospel at some points. Thus, the representation of twelve apostles is, in this case, erroneous, since Matthias had not yet been chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. On the other hand, next to the apostles the Virgin should have been represented, but in this case, the painter decided not to incorporate her figure on the composition.
At the compositional level, this anonymous painting is inspired by engraving 148 of the Evangelicae historiae imagines(1593), by the Spanish Jesuit Jerónimo Nadal (1507-1580). This book had a pedagogical function: with its images, it sought to reflect on and explain the teachings present in the Gospels, and indicate how they should be used in prayer. However, in the case of painting, the main intention was to appeal to the viewer's feelings and to create surprise in him by putting him in front of this scene.
In addition to being a recurring motif in Christian iconography, the feast of the Ascension of Jesus, which is celebrated a week before Pentecost, has great importance in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. For Christians, this fact represents the union of God and his Son. To some believers, it also strengthens the hope that after death, they will be able to go to Heaven.
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