Halo (religious iconography)
A halo (from Greek ἅλως , halōs  also known as a nimbus, aureole, glory, or gloriole) is a crown of light rays, circle or disk of light  that surrounds a person in art. It has been used in the iconography of many religions to indicate holy or sacred figures, and has at various periods also been used in images of rulers or heroes. In the religious art of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, among other religions, sacred persons may be depicted with a halo in the form of a circular glow, or flames in Asian art, around the head or around the whole body—this last one is often called a mandorla. Halos may be shown as almost any colour or combination of colours, but are most often depicted as golden, yellow or white when representing light or red when representing flames.
Fra Angelico depicted a Deposition of Christ (the removal of Christ from the Cross) on the wall behind the altar, but it has been destroyed. However, his other works in the lunettes are well preserved.
The scenes of St. Stephen follow the Biblical account in the Acts of the Apostles, while those of St. Laurence are patterned after the older cycles in the basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, where he is buried. Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew, one of the first deacons named in Jerusalem by St. Peter – Ordination of St Stephen with St Stephen distributing Alms (lunette). His prayers (The Prayer of St. Stephen) earned him the hostility of his opponents in the city, who eventually stoned him to death in front of the city gate.
Laurence was a deacon (Ordination of St Laurence) to whom Pope Sixtus II had entrusted the Church's treasure in order to give it to the Roman emperor Valerian (St. Lawrence Receiving the Treasures of the Church). Lawrence instead divided it among the poor (St Laurence distributing Alms), an act for which he was martyred. The frescoes underline the similarities in the lives of the two figures: both were ordained deacons, both gave alms to the poor and both were martyred after a courageous declaration of faith. The choice of the two saints also shows the connection between the Churches of Jerusalem and the Rome.
The frescoes, full of fine architectural details, allude also to Nicholas V's desire to rebuild Rome as the new capital city of Christianity. The large walls in the Martyrdom of St. Stephen hint at the rebuilding of Rome's walls. Further, the schism in the Jewish community in Jerusalem can be compared to the Christian schism witnessed by Nicholas (who is portrayed in the frescoes as Pope Sixtus II).
The earliest known written reference to the Last Supper is in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:23–26), which dates to the middle of the first century, between AD 54–55.   The Last Supper was likely a retelling of the events of the last meal of Jesus among the early Christian community, and became a ritual which referred to that meal.  The earliest depictions of such meals occur in the frescoes of the Catacomb of Rome, where figures are depicted reclining around semi-circular tables.  In spite of near unanimous assent, the historicity of the evidence, one lone scholar comments that "The motif of the Last supper appears neither among the paintings of the catacombs nor the sculptures on sarcophagi . The few frescos in the catacombs representing a meal in which Christ and some of the disciples participate show not the Last supper but refer to the future meal promised by the exalted Christ in his heavenly kingdom", seeing the subject as beginning to be depicted in the 6th century. 
A clearer case is the mosaic in the Church of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, where a similar meal scene is part of a cycle depicting the life of Jesus and involves clear representation of him and his disciples. Byzantine artists sometimes used semi-circular tables in their depictions, but more frequently they focused on the Communion of the Apostles, rather than the reclining figures having a meal.  The Last Supper was also one of the few subjects to be continued in Lutheran altarpieces for a few decades after the Protestant Reformation, sometimes showing portraits of leading Protestant theologians as the apostles. 
By the Renaissance, the Last Supper was a favorite subject in Italian art, especially in the refectories of monasteries. These depictions typically portrayed the reactions of the disciples to the announcement of the betrayal of Jesus.  Most of the Italian depictions use an oblong table, and not a semi-circular one, and sometimes Judas is shown by himself clutching his money bag. 
With an oblong table, the artist had to decide whether to show the apostles on both sides, so with some seen from behind, or all on one side of the table facing the viewer. Sometimes only Judas is on the side nearest the viewer, allowing the bag to be seen. The placement on both sides was further complicated when halos were obligatory was the halo to be placed as though in front of the rear-facing apostles faces, or as though fixed to the back of their head, obscuring the view? Duccio, daringly for the time, just omits the halos of the apostles nearest the viewer. As artists became increasingly interested in realism and the depiction of space, a three-sided interior setting became more clearly shown and elaborate, sometimes with a landscape view behind, as in the wall-paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Perugino.  Artists who showed the scene on a ceiling or in a relief sculpture had further difficulties in devising a composition.
Typically, the only apostles easily identifiable are Judas, often with his bag containing thirty pieces of silver visible, John the Evangelist, normally placed on Jesus's right side, usually "reclining in Jesus' bosom" as his Gospel says (see below), or even asleep, and Saint Peter on Jesus's left. The food on the table often includes a paschal lamb in Late Antique and Byzantine versions fish was the main dish. In later works the bread may become more like a communion host, and more food, eating, and figures of servers appear. 
There are two major episodes or moments depicted in Last Supper scenes, each with specific variants.  There are also other, less frequently depicted scenes, such as the washing of the feet of the disciples. 
The Betrayal Edit
The first episode, much the most common in Western Medieval art,  is the dramatic and dynamic moment of Jesus' announcement of his betrayal. In this the various reactions produced by the Apostles and the depictions of their emotions provide a rich subject for artistic exploration,  following the text of Chapter 13 of the Gospel of John (21–29, a "sop" is a piece of bread dipped in sauce or wine):
21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in the spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
22 The disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.
23 There was at the table reclining in Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
24 Simon Peter therefore beckoneth to him, and saith unto him, Tell [us] who it is of whom he speaketh.
25 He leaning back, as he was, on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
26 Jesus therefore answereth, He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him. So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, [the son] of Simon Iscariot.
27 And after the sop, then entered Satan into him. Jesus therefore saith unto him, What thou doest, do quickly.
28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.
29 For some thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy what things we have need of for the feast or, that he should give something to the poor.
30 He then having received the sop went out straightway: and it was night.
Especially in Eastern depictions, Judas may only be identifiable because he is stretching out his hand for the food, as the other apostles sit with hands out of sight, or because he lacks a halo. In the West he often has red hair. Sometimes Judas takes the sop in his mouth directly from Jesus' hand, and when he is shown eating it a small devil may be shown next to or on it.  The betrayal scene may also be combined with the other episodes of the meal, sometimes with a second figure of Christ washing Peter's feet. 
The Eucharist Edit
The second scene shows the institution of the Eucharist, which may be shown as either the moment of the consecration of the bread and wine, with all still seated, or their distribution in the first Holy Communion, technically known in art history as the Communion of the Apostles (though in depictions set at the table the distinction is often not made), which is common in very early depictions and throughout Byzantine art, and in the West reappears from the 14th century onwards.  The depictions of both scenes are generally solemn and mystical in the latter Jesus may be standing and delivers the communion bread and wine to each apostle, like a priest giving the sacrament of Holy Communion. In early and Eastern Orthodox depictions the apostles may queue up to receive it, as though in a church, with Jesus standing under or next to a ciborium, the small open structure over the altar, which was much more common in Early Medieval churches. An example of this type is in mosaic in the apse of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, under a very large standing Virgin. 
Did Jesus really descend into hell?
Of the 12 entries in our Book of Confessions, odds are you’re most familiar with the Apostles’ Creed. Every branch of Christianity’s family tree accepts it. It’s often recited at baptisms, as it was originally a baptismal creed. And, since it’s only 110 words long, if you have any creed memorized, this is probably the one. But of those 110 words, four have tripped up Christians for centuries: He descended into hell.
Appearing between “crucified, dead, and buried” and “the third day he rose again,” “descended into hell” wasn’t originally part of the Creed. It was sometime around A.D. 400, in the writings of Rufinus, a monk and theologian, that the first mention of Jesus’ descent appeared. In A.D. 750, the Latin church made it an official part of the Creed.
But why add this line? It all depends on whom you ask.
Let’s start by understanding the definition of the word “hell” in the Hebrew (sheol) and Greek (hades). Both translate to mean “land of the dead.” So, like Rufinus, some folks believe that this clause simply means that Jesus, being fully human and fully divine, experienced a true human death. Critics of this view, though, ask why it was necessary to include it in the Creed.
Others argue that “hell” refers to Gehenna, a valley outside of Jerusalem that was originally used for child sacrifice and later used as a garbage dump, which became Hebrew “shorthand” for a place of everlasting punishment. Further complicating matters, Gehenna advocates have different views on why Jesus would have gone there:
- To suffer the consequences of human depravity. Thomas Aquinas held this view, but critics argue that Jesus’ statements on the cross (“Today you will be with me in paradise” and “It is finished!”) contradict it.
- To preach the gospel, thus giving hell’s inhabitants a second chance at salvation. This view is based on a particular reading of Ephesians 4:8–10 and 1 Peter 3:18–20, where the Scriptures seem to indicate that Jesus might have visited the lands of the dead to save those who were there. Critics say this view forces an interpretation originally not intended.
Other views, including John Calvin’s as well as that found in the Heidelberg Catechism, assert that “hell” shouldn’t be understood literally. Instead, Jesus’ separation from God on the cross constitutes ultimate suffering.
So what do Presbyterians believe about Jesus “descending into hell”? All of the above … none of the above … some combination of the above. (Seriously, you thought I was going to solve a centuries-old theological squabble in one column?)
While we might not necessarily agree on the meaning of this phrase, we can agree on the role it plays as part of our confessional heritage.
As Presbyterians, we take a Reformed view of the Bible and the church’s creeds. In the words of our ordination vows, “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments [are], by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to [us],” and we “receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do.” That’s a lot of fancy language that means we believe that the Bible is the authority by which we understand and live out our relationship with God and each other. Scripture gets the final word. Our confessions serve as conversation partners. They come out of specific contexts, giving us snapshots of how those siblings in Christ in those times and places understood what being Christian meant. For example, the Reformer Theodore Beza didn’t agree with John Calvin, as he preferred to omit “he descended into hell.” Calvin kept it.
Creeds aren’t supposed to give us all of the answers. Rather, they help us ask better questions. They drive us back to the Bible, where, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can encounter the love of God expressed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that, regardless of our own understanding of Jesus’ descent, is our takeaway from these four words in the Apostles’ Creed. By reciting these words, we affirm that Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to make — and be — the ultimate sacrifice for us. We celebrate that there’s nowhere devoid of God’s grace and mercy. And we rejoice that death no longer has the final say.
Jodi Craiglow is a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, Illinois, and a Ph.D. candidate at Trinity International University. A self-acknowledged polity wonk, she is a member of the PC(USA) Committee on Theological Education.
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Christ and the Twelve Apostles
Italian Renaissance painting is most often be divided into four periods: the Proto-Renaissance (1300–1425), the Early Renaissance (1425–1495), the High Renaissance (1495–1520), and Mannerism (1520–1600). The city of Florence is renowned as the birthplace of the Renaissance, and in particular of Renaissance painting. From the early 15th to late 16th centuries, Italy was divided into many political states. The painters of Renaissance Italy wandered Italy, disseminating artistic and philosophical ideas. The Proto-Renaissance begins with the professional life of the painter Giotto and includes Taddeo Gaddi, Orcagna and Altichiero. The Early Renaissance style was started by Masaccio and then further developed by Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Sandro Botticelli, Verrocchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Giovanni Bellini. The High Renaissance period was that of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Coreggio, Giorgione, the latter works of Giovanni Bellini, and Titian. The Mannerist period, dealt with in a separate article, included the latter works of Michelangelo, as well as Pontormo, Parmigianino, Bronzino and Tintoretto.
The scene of the Last Supper, the final meal before Jesus’ Crucifixion at which He instituted the Holy Eucharist, is forever etched in our minds thanks to the beloved work of art by Leonardo da Vinci. He painted his mural of the Last Supper in 1490, on one of the walls of the refectory (friars’ dining room) of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. But the most famous meal of Christianity did not inspire Leonardo alone. Many other giants of art history, from Giotto to Dalí, have depicted the last meal that Christ had before dying in moving portraits that are little known to the general public.
Here is a gallery of some of “the other Last Suppers” of Western art:
- Giotto, 1305
One of the beautiful frescoes completed by Proto-Renaissance master Giotto in the early 1300s to decorate the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, northern Italy, depicts the Last Supper. The 12 apostles are depicted with doubtful expressions, as Jesus has just announced that one of them will betray him. Judas is wearing a yellow cloak and is putting his hand into Christ’s plate while John is resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Giotto di Bondone | Public Domain
- Fra Angelico, 1440-1441
This decorates the interiors of the ancient Dominican monastery of St. Mark in Florence, now a museum of fine arts. Fra Angelico, a friar and one of the greatest artists of the Early Renaissance, depicts the Last Supper by using a monastery refectory as its setting. Four of the 12 apostles are depicted kneeling, and so is Mary. The painting evokes a sense of stillness that was intended to inspire meditation and prayer. Fra Angelico | Public Domain
- Tintoretto, 1592-1594
This oil on canvas adorning the interiors of the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice differs from traditional representations of the Last Supper. Here, Tintoretto portrays characters that are usually left out of the main scene, such as servants and cooks. There is an unusual sense of movement that stands in contrast with more “still” representations like those of Leonardo or Fra Angelico. The Venetian master’s use of light, coming both from Jesus and from the lamp, contrasts with the dark tone of the painting, resulting in an almost cinematographic effect. Jacopo Tintoretto | Public Domain
Completed as part of an altarpiece in the Church of St. Rombout in the Belgian town of Mechelen, this oil on canvas depiction of the Last Supper displays Rubens’ iconic use of light. The figure that is most in the light is Jesus, wearing a red cloak, while the one further from the light is Judas, dressed in blue and looking with a piercing gaze right at the viewer.
Peter Paul Rubens | Public Domain
The life of Christ in medieval and Renaissance art
Episodes from the life of Christ (many of which also include his mother, the Virgin Mary) were among the most common subjects depicted in Medieval and Renaissance art. But where do these stories come from? And what exactly do these images represent?
Most of these stories come from the Christian New Testament (the second part of the Christian Bible), and especially from the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which record the life and teachings of Jesus. Some episodes are also associated with legends or non-biblical texts (texts that were not in the Bible, but were nevertheless read by Christians).
Some images of Christ’s life originated in the early centuries of the Church, including representations of Christ’s birth, which date to the fourth and fifth centuries. Many such images closely parallel the arts of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire (read about scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin in Byzantine art). Other images developed later, such as Christ emerging from his tomb at the Resurrection, which appears in the eleventh century.
Medieval and Renaissance images of Christ’s life appear in a wide range of artistic media, on different scales, and in various public and private devotional settings. While these images vary based on the period, region, and circumstances of their production, this essay introduces common elements in scenes from the life of Christ, which had an enduring influence on the history of western art.
Commonly depicted subjects in medieval and Renaissance art
|The Annunciation |
Adoration of the Magi
The Baptism of Christ
The Raising of Lazarus
Entry into Jerusalem
The Last Supper
Agony in the Garden
|Kiss of Judas |
Christ before Pilate
Descent from the Cross
The Marys at the Tomb
Noli me Tangere
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm (Convent of San Marco, Florence photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The angel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary to announce to her that she will be the mother of God. At this moment, Jesus Christ is miraculously conceived, and God becomes flesh and blood. The Annunciation is described in Luke 1:26–38 and pictured here in a fresco by Fra Angelico at the Convent of San Marco in Florence.
Master of the Geneva Latini, The Visitation, c. 1470, Rouen, ink, tempera, and gold on vellum, book of hours: 19.5 x 13.1 cm France (The Cleveland Museum of Art, CC0 1.0)
Mary and Elizabeth, who are cousins, meet, as shown in this fifteenth-century manuscript illumination. Mary (left) is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth (right) is pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Elizabeth (and her son in her womb) recognize the miracle of Christ in Mary’s womb. The Visitation is recorded in Luke 1:39-56. An angel sometimes stands near the Virgin, as in this miniature, although no angels are mentioned in the biblical account.
Duccio, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308-11 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)
Matthew 1:18–2:12 and Luke 2:1–20 describe the Nativity of Christ. Mary gives birth to Christ in a stable while the animals watch. In Duccio’s Nativity, Joseph peers into the stable from the left side of the composition, while some other artworks show him sleeping (his minimized role in the scene emphasizes Mary’s virginity). The star that guides the Magi from the east shines overhead. A host of angels appear above the scene and announce Christ’s birth to shepherds. Midwives wash the newborn Christ child in the bottom left. View annotated image.
Adoration of the Magi, 1470–1480, Upper Rhine, Germany, cartapesta (papier maché) with polychromy and gilding, 29 × 22.4 × 4.5 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Adoration of the Magi
Three Magi (by tradition, kings from the East), follow a miraculous star that leads them to Christ, who has just been born in a stable (Matthew 2:1-12). The Magi offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (frankincense and myrrh are aromatic tree resins), and worship the infant Christ. View annotated image.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Presentation at the Temple, 1342, tempera and gold on panel, 257 x 168 cm (Le Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Mary and Joseph present Christ in the temple at Jerusalem as described in Luke 2:22–38. They encounter Simeon—who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the messiah—shown in Lorenzetti’s painting holding Christ into his arms. The prophetess Anna stands near Simeon, identifying Jesus as the Messiah with a pointing finger. View annotated image.
Baptism of Christ, Psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, KW 76 F 13, fol. 019r, c. 1185, Fécamp, Normandy (National Library of the Netherlands)
The Baptism of Christ
The Baptism of Christ is recounted in Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, and Luke 3:21–22 and appears here in the twelfth-century Psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. John the Baptist stands on the left, baptizing Christ in the Jordan River. A ministering angel stands on Christ’s other side, preparing to dress him when he emerges from the water. The Holy Spirit descends on Christ from above in the form of a dove. View annotated image
Duccio, The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-11, tempera on poplar panel, 43.2 x 46 cm (The Frick Collection)
Following Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit leads Christ into the wilderness to fast for forty days, during which time he is tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1–11 Mark 1:12–13 Luke 4:1–12). Duccio’s painting depicts the third and final temptation: “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world…and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”‘ Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Matthew 4:8-11). View annotated image.
The Healing of the Blind Man and the Raising of Lazarus, 1120-40, fresco, made in Castile-León, Spain, 165.1 x 340.4 cm (photo: Sharon Mollerus, CC BY 2.0)
The Raising of Lazarus
The Raising of Lazarus, described in John 11:38–44, was one of the many miracles of Christ recorded in the Gospels. Christ was friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who were siblings. Lazarus becomes ill and his sisters send to Christ for help. Lazarus dies and is in the grave for four days before Christ raises him from the dead by calling him out of his tomb, shown on the right side of this fresco. View annotated image.
Giotto, Entry into Jerusalem, 1305-06, fresco, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, Padua (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Entry into Jerusalem
Christ rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, where he is greeted by crowds of people (Matthew 21:1–11, Mark 11:1–10, Luke 19:29–40, and John 12:12–19). These crowds welcome him into Jerusalem by waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks for him. View annotated image.
Ugolino da Siena, The Last Supper, c. 1325-30, tempera and gold on wood, 38.1 x 56.5 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Last Supper
Christ eats dinner with his apostles and encourages them to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him (Matthew 26:20–29 Mark 14:17–25 Luke 22:14–23 I Corinthians 11:23–26), as shown in this painting by Ugolino da Siena. He also tells the apostles that one of them will betray him. View annotated image.
The Agony in the Garden, c. 1460, Naples, Italy, tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment, 17.1 x 12.1 cm (The J. Paul Getty Museum, CC0)
Agony in the Garden
After the Last Supper, Christ goes to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane with his apostles (Matthew 26:36–46 Mark 14:32–42 Luke 22:39–46). He asks them to wait and pray with him, but they fall asleep. Anticipating his crucifixion, Jesus prays: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Artists often visualized Christ’s “cup” as a Eucharistic chalice , as in this miniature at the Getty Museum. In Luke’s Gospel, Christ’s anguish causes him to sweat blood, and an angel comes from heaven to strengthen Christ, two details that are sometimes also included in this scene. View annotated image.
Giotto, Kiss of Judas, 1305-06, fresco, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, Padua (photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC0)
Kiss of Judas
Judas, who has been paid 30 pieces of silver to betray Christ’s whereabouts to the Roman authorities, leads soldiers to Jesus and identifies him with a kiss, as shown here in Giotto’s fresco. Christ is arrested and led away. The episode is recorded in Matthew 26:47–56, Mark 14:–52, Luke 22:47–54, and John 18:1–11. View annotated image
Ludwig Schongauer, Christ before Pilate The Resurrection, c. 1477, oil on fir, 38.4 x 21 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Christ before Pilate
Roman soldiers take Christ to Pilate, the Roman prefect (Matthew 27:11–26, Mark 15:1–15, Luke 23:1–25, John 18:28–19:16). Pilate tries Jesus, but does not find him guilty. Pilate tells the angry crowd that he will release one prisoner, but they do not choose Jesus. As in many artworks, Schongauer illustrates a moment from Matthew’s Gospel: “When Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’” (Matthew 27.24). Pilate orders Christ to be whipped and crucified. View annotated image.
Master of the Codex of Saint George, The Crucifixion, c. 1330-35, Italian, made in Avignon, France, tempera on wood, gold ground, 45.7 x 29.8 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Christ is crucified at Golgotha as his mother Mary and John the Evangelist watch. Mary is sometimes accompanied by other women who were followers of Christ, as in this fourteenth-century painting at the Metropolitan. Jesus is offered vinegar (or sour wine) to drink from a sponge, and soon dies. He is stabbed in his side with a lance after his death. The Crucifixion is described in Matthew 27:32–56, Mark 15:21–41, Luke 23:26–49, and John 19:16–37. View annotated image.
The Deposition, Book of Hours, Walters Manuscript W.246, fol. 25v, 1440-50, Bruges (The Walters Art Museum)
Descent from the Cross (also known as The Deposition)
Pilate gives Joseph of Arimathea permission to remove Christ from the cross and bury his body (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42). Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, another follower of Christ, take Christ down from the cross. They bring a shroud for the body. Other figures often included in this scene are the Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist , and the three Marys (three women mentioned in the Gospels as followers of Christ, all named Mary but not including the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother).
The Women at the Tomb, mid 1200s, Belgium, possibly Bruges, tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, leaf: 23.5 x 16.5 (The J. Paul Getty Museum, CC0)
The Marys at the Tomb
The Gospels describe women who followed Jesus as the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection from the dead: Matthew 28:1–10, Mark 16:1–8, Luke 23:55–24:12, John 20:1–18. Tradition identified them as the three Marys: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Mary Salome a later tradition identified them as the three daughters of St. Anne. The Marys go to the tomb to wash and anoint the body of Christ, but when they arrive, the large stone is rolled away from the door. An angel tells the Marys that Christ is not there. The Getty miniature includes the soldiers that Pilate posted to guard Christ’s tomb, described in Matthew’s Gospel: “An angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:2-4). View annotated image.
The Resurrection, Homilary, Walters Manuscript W.148, fol. 23v, first half of the 14th century, Lower Rhineland (The Walters Art Museum)
Christ emerges triumphant from the tomb and carries the banner of the resurrection, often a white flag with a red cross. This scene is not explicitly described in the Gospels and appears as early as the eleventh century.
Ludwig of Ulm, Noli me tangere, c. 1450-70, German, hand-colored woodcut, 59.7 x 44.5 cm (National Gallery of Art)
Noli me Tangere
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb to mourn Christ (John 20:11-18). She finds Christ, but initially mistakes him for the gardener. Sometimes, as in this woodcut by Ludwig of Ulm, Christ appears with gardening tools (in this case a spade). When Mary realizes that he is Christ, he says “Touch me not” or “noli me tangere” in Latin.
The Ascension, c. 1190-1200, English, tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment, 11.9 x 17 cm (The J. Paul Getty Museum, CC0)
After forty days with his disciples following his resurrection from the dead, Christ ascends into heaven (Luke 24:50–53, Acts 1:9–12). Sometimes, Christ is surrounded by a mandorla (an almond-shaped aureole of light). In other works, such as this English miniature, only Christ’s feet are visible as he ascends into the clouds above. The Virgin and Apostles stand below, gazing upward after Christ.
Pentecost, Ms. Ludwig VII 1, fol. 47v, c. 1030-1040, Ottonian, Regensburg, Germany, tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 23.2 x 16 cm (The J. Paul Getty Museum, CC0)
Pentecost depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire, as described in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit enables the Apostles to preach about the crucified and risen Christ in many languages so that people gathered in Jerusalem from many nations can understand. In this miniature, the Holy Spirit is also pictured as a dove, although this detail is not included in the biblical account.
Master of the Orléans Triptych, The Last Judgment, c. 1500, French, painted enamels on copper, partly gilded, center plaque: 25 x 22 cm , left plaque: 25 x 10 cm, right plaque: 25 x 10 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0)
References to the Last Judgment appear in the Gospels and elsewhere in the Christian New Testament, and Christ is often represented in art as judge at the end of time. These scenes often show Christ enthroned in heaven surrounded by saints and angels, who help him judge the souls of humankind, as shown in the center panel of this triptych. Angels call forth the dead from their tombs to be judged, pictured in the bottom of the center panel. The righteous enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a beautiful orderly place (left panel), and the damned go to hell where they are tormented by demons (right panel). View annotated image.
Christ and the Twelve Apostles by Fra Angelico - History
Annunciation - Fresco, 230 x 321 cm
The present convent stands on a site occupied since the 12th century by a Vallombrosan monastery which later passed to the Silvestrines they were driven out of San Marco in 1418, and in 1438 the convent was given to the Dominican Observants. In 1437 Cosimo il Vecchio de&rsquo Medici decided to rebuild the entire complex, at the suggestion of Antonino Pierozzi the Vicar-General. The work was entrusted to Michelozzo, and the decoration of the walls was carried out between 1439 and 1444 by Giovanni of Fiesole, known as Fra Angelico, and his assistants, who included Benozzo Gozzoli. The church was consecrated in 1443 in the presence of Pope Eugenius IV. The 14th-century structure was modified by Michelozzo further alterations were made in the later 16th century by Giambologna, and in 1678 by Pier Francesco Silvani. Inside, the aisle-less nave has a carved and gilded ceiling.
The side altars, designed by Giambologna in 1580, have 16th- and 17th-century altarpieces: the most interesting are the Madonna and Saints by Fra Bartolomeo (1509), and St. Thomas in prayer before the Crucifix, signed by Santi di Tito and dated 1593. In the Sacristy is the original tomb of St Antoninus, archbishop of Florence from 1446, with the figure of the Saint in bronze. His bones lay here for over a century, before they were translated to the church and placed beneath the altar in the Salviati Chapel dedicated to him, which was commissioned from Giambologna, and frescoed by Passignano with the Translation and recognition of the Saint&rsquos remains (after 1589). The chapel is decorated in marble and bronze, and has paintings by Alessandro Allori, Giovanni Battista Naldini, and Poppi. The frescoes in the dome are by Bernardino Poccetti. He also frescoed the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, where there are canvases by Santi di Tito, Passignano, Jacopo da Empoli and Francesco Curradi. On the high altar is a Crucifix painted by Fra Angelico between 1425 and 1428. In San Marco are the tombs of Pico della Mirandola (1494) and the poet Agnolo Poliziano (1494).
Many of the great figures of 15th-century culture and spirituality lived and worked in the convent: Cosimo il Vecchio de&rsquo Medici, who had his own cell here, where he loved to pray and meditate Archbishop St Antoninus the Blessed Fra Angelico, who painted the frecoes and, from 1489, Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who in his sermons fulminated against the immorality of the age, and who was hanged and burnt in Piazza della Signoria (1498). Fra Angelico decorated the cells on the first floor, and other spaces in the convent, with frescoes charged with profound spiritual and ascetical meaning he began with the lunettes above the doorways in the Cloister of St. Antoninus, which Michelozzo had built before 1440. The lunettes in the vaulting of the cloister were frescoed in the late 16th and early 17th century by Bernardino Poccetti and other artists with scenes of the Life and miracles of St Antoninus.
From this cloister we reach the rooms forming the Museum of San Marco. The Sala dell&rsquoOspizio, where pilgrims were received, is now a gallery where many of Fra Angelico&rsquos most important panel paintings have been gathered together. They include the Deposition painted for Palla Strozzi, the Pala di San Marco, commissioned by the Medici, and the Tabernacle of the Linaioli, made in 1433-1434 with the assistance of Lorenzo Ghiberti, who designed the frame. In the Chapter House, he painted a complex and allegorical Crucifixion, finished in 1442. In the other rooms of the Museum on the ground floor, such as the Lavabo and the two Refectories, are displayed works by the principal Florentine painters of the 15th and 16th century: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Alesso Baldovinetti, Giovanni Antonio Sogliani and Fra Bartolomeo.
The Great Refectory has a collection of works by the School of San Marco, in other words by the pupils of Fra Bartolomeo. In the Guest House there are numerous fragments of stone carvings, rescued from the ruins when the Jewish quarter and the old market in Florence were demolished in the mid-19th century.
The Museum also includes the former Library on the first floor, built by Michelozzo for Cosimo de&rsquo Medici, where a considerable number of illuminated choir books are displayed. The present Convent Library specialises in theology and philosophy.
The work of Leonardo became rapidly a “milestone” of the sacred art and was imitated and copied countless times. Andrea del Sarto, in 1520 – 1525, continues the tradition of the Florence last suppers in the monastery of San Salvi, but he follows the Leonardo’s lesson putting Judas with Jesus at the same side of table and showing the reactions of the Apostles, who agitate around the figure isolated and solemn of Christ
Andrea del Sarto, Last Supper (1520-1525), Florence Monastery of San Salvi
In XVI century many monasteries in the Venetian territory commission a last supper for their refectories. Venorese and Tintoretto engage several times with this theme and try to find a personal way with respect to the Florentine and Leonardo’s model. The Veronese’s enormous canvas known as the Feast in the House of Levi, executed in 1573 for the Dominican Basilica of the Saints John and Paul, had to be a last Supper indeed, in the series of the other spectacular feasts conceived by the artist. However the Inquisition, as it is easy to understand, obliged him to make changes in the composition. Veronese preferred to change the title.