Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus (1620s)
Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Reni, an Italian artist of the High Baroque School, created some of Christianity’s most beautiful frescoes, including St. Dominic’s Glory in the Arca di San Domenico in Bologna. The tenderness and intimacy communicated in his St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus is striking, with the faces of baby Jesus and Joseph set so close together. The Christ child playfully and curiously touches His earthly father’s beard, while Joseph looks upon the Child as both a loving father and a worshiper of God.
William Holman Hunt, Finding of the Savior in the Temple (1860)
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Hunt was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of England, formed in 1848 by both painters and poets. This painting—the original of which sold for a large amount and was later copied and distributed widely—established him as an artist and secured his finances, allowing him to devote his life to art and to build a house in Jerusalem. This scene offers a rare interpretation of the moment Christ’s parents find Him after losing track of Him for three days as they were headed home to Nazareth from Jerusalem. Rather than relying on symbolism, Hunt aims for a more realistic interpretation, capturing what was surely a highly charged family moment.
Rogier van der Weyden, Crucifixion Triptych (central panel, 1445)
Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna
Along with Jan van Eyck, Weyden is considered one of the greats among the Flemish Primatives of the 15th Century Northern Renaissance. He was noted as the official painter of Brussels. His Crucifixion Triptych shows both the demonic and maternal presences attending Christ’s death as the sky grows dark at the Father’s forsaking. Mary’s anguish is apparent as she tries to cling to her son. John is there to assume her care at Christ’s request.
Matthias Grünewald, Small Crucifixion, (1520)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
A German artist, Grünewald’s effort was to portray the suffering of Christ as grisly and grotesque, rather than as glorious or heroic. He accomplishes this uniquely in both Small Crucifixion and a larger work on the famous Isenheim Altarpiece*. The altarpiece was a triptypch created for the chapel of a monastery dedicated to treating patients with a painful skin disease known as St. Anthony’s Fire (ergotism). The pain associated with this disease was excruciating for the patients, and Grünewald wanted to portray Christ as one who identified with their great suffering.
Pieter van Aelst, The Trinity (1530)
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Van Aelst was a Flemish artist based in Brussels as a painter and tapestry maker. This painting is a portrayal of the bodily ascension to the Father of the crucified and resurrected Christ. The Holy Spirit is there for the reunion as well, depicted, as usual, in the dove above the Father’s and Son’s heads. The empty cross carried by one of the angels demonstrates Satan’s defeat in Christ’s Victory.
But wait—if this painting represents the victorious, ascended Christ, why does the Savior look so morbid… so dead? This was a common practice employed by artists of the day. Rather than showing a specific moment in time, they incorporated elements from earlier in the story in the same image. Thus, while the painting depicts the reunion of the Father and the Son, we see Christ in His crucified state to remind us of the terrible price He paid in being punished for our sins. Notice, too, that the Father’s face is full of sadness. This serves as a solemn reminder of what our sin cost His Son.
There are many other wonderful paintings of the ascended Christ’s reunion with His Father. Nearly all of them show Jesus in His crucified state and God the Father with sadness on His face. The following images are two notable examples.
Lucas Cranach, The Trinity (undated)
El Greco, The Trinity (1577)
Museo del Prado, Madrid