Lenten Journey with Art #4
Jacobo Tintoretto, The Crucifixion, 1565
I’ll not soon forget the day I first saw this painting in all its powerful glory. I was in Venice, enjoying the last day of my Italian vacation. The rest of the my travel companions had gone on to Germany, and I was left alone to enjoy a few final hours in that island city. I had several things I wanted to see before I left, so I rose early and started my explorations. One of the places I wanted to see isn’t listed in many of the popular guidebooks—the Scuolo San Rocca, a building constructed by a religious confraternity who commissioned one of the great Venetian painters, Jacobo Tintoretto, to decorate its walls with art celebrating the life and death of Jesus Christ. When I paid my admittance and stepped into the main downstairs room, I discovered that I had the place to myself, and I could take my time admiring the passion and emotion that Tintoretto, a committed Christian, put into his paintings. All the furniture that had once adorned the room has been removed, and so now it stands as a testament to the artistry of this great late-Renaissance artist, and to the One who was the subject matter of most of the art on these walls. It’s an underappreciated treasure, and these walls contain nearly 100 paintings, spread over two floors, which tell the story of the life of the Savior, illustrating nearly every major event of His life in these huge canvases. After touring the first floor, I climbed the elaborate staircase and worked my way around the perimeter of the second floor, until I got to a room at the rear of the large open space. When I turned the corner to enter that room, I saw the painting you can see above, and I let out a gasp of surprise and awe. Alone in this room that was used for special meetings of the confraternity was this huge canvas, stretching all the way across the back wall. The impact was overwhelming. All the activity that surrounds the crucifixion in this image is made almost irrelevant by the central figure who hangs on the cross. His arms are stretched out on the wooden beam, and He is surrounded by a bursting halo of light. This moment of sadness and grief for the on-lookers, Tintoretto seems to be suggesting, is also a moment of triumph. It seems that He has found victory in the midst of the pain. A victory for you and me. I stood for a long time in front of the painting, transfixed, taking in every detail, and scanning all the jumble of events occuring around Christ. But my eyes kept returning to the center, to the One hanging in suffering and triumph. I found myself praying a prayer of intense gratitude. The rest of the day I was haunted by that image. I still think of it often, and it makes real to me again what happened on the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice is not just a theological talking point or a creedal statement. It is the power of God manifested over Sin and Death.
Terry Glaspey is the author of 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know