Column: A Thousand Words
Church of the Holy Redeemer in Chora
by Mary Elizabeth Podles
To the delight of the skeptics, the Resurrection, the event that validates Christ's salvific sacrifice, had no human onlookers. Scripture gives no eyewitness account. Artists wishing to depict the Resurrection must either refer to it allusively, by depicting the three Marys at the tomb or Mary Magdalene's encounter in the garden, or fall back on their own imaginations. In the West, artists concentrated on the risen Christ's very corporeality, giving him a physical and compelling presence. Eastern Christianity, perhaps in response to theological issues difficult to resolve by argument, developed the image that we see here.
In the East, artists depicted the Resurrection in terms of its effect, the salvation of mankind from sin and the opening of the gates of Heaven. This fresco, a late (1315–1321) example of the image developed over the centuries, demonstrates all of its possibilities. Central to the image is Christ himself, set off by a starry mandorla radiant against the darkness behind him. This almond-shaped mandorla also surrounds Christ in Byzantine icons of the Transfiguration and the Ascension, and represents the uncreated light of the divine as it breaks through into the natural world.
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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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