An acclaimed exhibit ending a four-month run in New York City has given art lovers the chance to explore a single theme, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, and the Venetian artistic tradition that gave it full flowering - writes Chris Herlinger.
'Passion in Venice: Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese', at the Museum of Biblical Art in Manhattan, has been a rare opportunity to see how the theme of Christ depicted between death and resurrection evolved throughout history.
While the exhibit of 60 objects include the works of such notables as 16th century painters Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese and 15th century artisans Carlo Crivelli and Michele Giambono, they also include the work of such later masters as Albrecht Durer, Edouard Manet and Paul Cezanne, as well as contemporary artist Bill Viola.
The New York-based museum, whose mandate is to celebrate and interpret art based on the texts of the Bible, has won acclaim for the exhibit. "It offers no definitive interpretation of its subject, but it prompts much thought about the power of icons," said critic Ken Johnson in The New York Times. The exhibit ends 12 June 2011.
A single phrase in the book of Isaiah 53.3 - "He was despised and rejected by others/a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity" - has served as the basis for the Man of Sorrows.
Though the image has its roots in Byzantine art, it became ubiquitous in the western tradition from the 1300s onward, appearing first in Venice.
Why Venice? As the museum notes in its exhibit material, Venice was always set apart. Its history of independence was "reflected in the individuality and boldness of its art. Artists experienced visual phenomenon differently in Venice, a city surrounded by water and sky, and developed an awareness of colour as vibrant rather than static."
Ena Heller, the museum's executive director, said in an interview with ENInews that some of that vibrancy is obvious in an exhibit where the thematic focus is, by definition, narrowed. It helps to recall that those seeing the art, in say, the 14th century, would have related to the story of the Man of Sorrows, given Europe's experience of numerous wars and plagues at the time, she said.
"In some of the works, the expression of suffering is subtle - like Christ is asleep," Heller said. "But in others, the pain is so obvious, and that increases over time. People of a certain era could identity with that."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]