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Crucifixion

Passion Story, Image 952

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Audio transcription

What symbolic power lies in this painting! Although Giotto is often regarded as a painter who reinforced realism in art, this painting speaks a language other than realism. Christ is oversized in scale. On the cross he towers over all those gathered at Golgatha and constitutes the unmistakable centre of the scene. Under the cross among the many we can see Mary, clad in blue and drenched in tears. She is consoled by John to whom Christ entrusted her before his death. Mary Magdalene in her red robe, equally in deep sorrow, clutches the cross. Blood flows down from the crossbeam. Looking more closely at this very old painting that in parts no longer has its original luminosity, you can see that the angels collect Jesus’s blood in cups. This is a direct visual referral to the communion. The transformation from wine to blood in all its divine grace is carried out: “Christ’s blood, shed for you.”

[Music.]

Here, Anton Bruckner musically interprets the magnitude and grace of God in his motet “Christ factus est”. The verse “Christ became obedient for us unto death, even unto the death upon the cross. Therefore God exalted him and bestowed on him a name which is above all names” is sung in very low notes to represent the transition into death. This is contrasted by very exposed passages. With exciting high notes the choir makes this exultation of Christ on the cross resound. He is said to be “greater than all names”. Jesus descended into the realm of the dead, in order to be elevated. This is also promised to all believers. They will resurrect after death.

[Music.]

Full Length Music

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Anton Bruckner (1824–1896)
„Christus factus est“
WAB 11
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

Details

Crucifixion (Giotto),
Giotto,
Poplar wood,
36.2 × 59.0 cm

Volker-H. Schneider

Detail, Above the People

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Audio transcription

From an interview with Gregor Meyer, artistic assistant of the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin, spoken by Andrew Redmond, bass in the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

This upward direction is very present and there are several parts where the lines move ostentatiously downwards so as to symbolize death as a way station, it isn’t jet the end. And there are clearly exposed parts when the full choir rises high up and expresses this tension of Jesus elevated on the cross sonically. The last line of this hymn goes „quod est super omne nomen“ – the name that stands above all. Bruckner has used nearly half the duration of his composition for this line and musically implies it in various ways throughout the work. In principle, this is the central statement this motet makes: Jesus has become human and died as a human to become God again who stands above us all and to receive from his God father the name, namely the savior, the messiah, the savior of the world from whom we will all benefit.

[Music.]

Detail, Blood

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Audio transcription

Communion (wine, blood) remains on of the most important rites of the Christian religion. And you can tell that the presence of blood is so important that it flows all the way past Magdalena clad in red up to the very foreground. This may have been a tabernacle, in any case it builds a connection to us and that elevates this tragic moment so greatly. Realism isn’t just depicting something in 3D, which Giotto was capable of, but that’s a different kind of realism. The idea is that this tragic moment of the crucifixion and thus the most sorrowful moment of Christendom is very near to us. It is possible to imagine this Good Friday as it returned year on year, although religion was far more important in the times of Giotto and the Christian religion strongly permeated Italy, more than today. It was everything. You can imagine how deeply important these feelings, this presence of blood were for the people seeing this painting back then.

Detail, Emotional Angels

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Audio transcription

From an interview with Neville Rowley, curator of the Gemäldegalerie, spoken by Andrew Redmond, bass in the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

This idea and the decision Giotto took to depict such feelings, such as the tears and the sorrow, is something he invented. You can best see it in the angels up there who are nearly disappearing. Some of them gather the tears, others Christ’s blood. They suffer from God’s death, and nobody yet knows of Christ’s resurrection.

Crucifixion
Gemäldegalerie
Main floor, Room 41

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