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The Deceased Christ Supported by Two Angels

Passion Story, Image 912

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Audio transcription

The deceased Christ comes very close to us in Giovanni Bellini’s depiction which was created on the second half of the 15th century in Venice. Face, skin, hands, Christ's whole body are all finely shaded and appear three-dimensional. His facial expression appears enraptured, almost as if Christ as if were merely sleeping or dreaming. But the deep side wound inflicted by Longinus's lance thrust and the stigmata undoubtedly refer to the crucifixion. Even the blood which strangely seems to be flowing upwards reminds us of his hands had been nailed in opposite direction to the crossbeam of the cross.

Two angels with child-like delicate faces and hands support the deceased. Their tenderness emphasizes the heaviness of the dead body, the humanity of God’s son. One of the angels directly looks at Christ, at his death, while the second raises his gaze towards heaven and resurrection.

[Music.]

The deeply religious, spanish Renaissance composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria composed 18 motets of Tenebrae Responsories. They were performed during Passion week between Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. The four-part movement has a refrain that quotes from the Gospel of Luke: “And Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Further, Luke relates Jesus’s words: “Father, into your hand I commend my spirit” and finally ends: “Jesus bowed his head and breathed his last”.

The despair over the passing also inherent in Bellini’s haunting painting, is transformed in the bowed head and closed eyes of Christ into a form of devotion, hovering between death and redemption, between man and God.

Full Length Music

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Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611)
„Tenebrae factae sunt“
From: "Tenebrae responsories"
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

Details

The Deceased Christ Supported by Two Angels (um 1470–1475),
Giovanni Bellini,
Poplar,
66.9 × 82.0 cm

Christoph Schmidt

Detail, Stigmata

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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

He’s got the stigmata, he’s been nailed to the cross, he has died. These stigmata are depicted incredibly realistic, you can see this on his hands, for instance, and it’s incomprehensible why the blood moves to the upper right and on the other to the left, but then you understand, of course, he’s been nailed to the cross and that was the direction in which the blood dripped. And it is so realistic that you could almost believe that Giovanni Bellini had a real Christ as his model, or at least a figure who’s been crucified. Of course that’s not the case, but it was the painter’s strategy to make the painting more realistic and create more empathy. It isn’t just a figure that’s very far away from us. It is like a mirror. He’s supposed to be like us. This is someone who doesn’t look at us. But it is a God who’s also been a man. That’s the main message of this painting.

Detail, 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

The two angels have different feelings. One of them looks at this deceased Christ and sees death, and he’s got no hope. Perhaps the other one who looks towards the heaven, has more hope because after three days or sometime soon, Jesus will resurrect.

What’s peculiar about this painting is that one of the angels is missing a hand. Normally at the time, the figures were always complete, but here, a hand is missing from the angel on the left and a wing of the angel on the right. This seems to have been Giovanni Bellini’s strategy, so that we stand for hours in front of these painting and ask ourselves: where is this hand, where’s this wing? That’s a lot better than directly showing it. Where are we? Does he sit in his tomb or not? What is it with these rose dresses? All these questions that were so important for the devotion.

Perhaps you have to come early to Gemäldegalerie and just look at this painting for an hour and possibly listen a bit of this music.

Detail, Jesus´s Face

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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

Our focus is quickly drawn to Jesus Christ’s face who has died, as we know and as we can tell from the wounds on his hands and his open chest. He’s been crucified and yet his face transports something peaceful, humble and redeemed. It comes across as completely free of pain. And the motet from the Tenebrae Responsories by Tomas Luis de Victoria really relates to this. There’s a refrain that says that Jesus tilts his head and dies. But there are two sentences with different characters, namely:

Jesus spoke these so-called seven last words: “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This great lamentation, this desperation and mortal fear has found its way into the twenty-second psalm.

And the second time, he cries: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

[Music.]

The Deceased Christ Supported by Two Angels
Gemäldegalerie
Main floor, Room 37

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