Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Redeemer and the Cross

Alessandro Bonvicino  (c. 1498 – December 22, 1554) ("Il Moretto da Brescia")
Il Redentore con la croce e un devoto
The Redeemer with the Cross and a Worshipper
Oil on panel
78 x 62 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

At first they thought the painting was by Titian. It was certainly Northern Italian

Then they attributed it to Il Moretto from Brescia who in his early years certainly was influenced by Titian and the Venetians

This is an early work

Alexis-François Rio (20 May 1797 - 17 June 1874),  in his revised and extensively expanded 1861 edition of De l`art chretien described Moretto as "one of Italy's greatest painters."' and saw in him a "hint of sadness which when it appears in his paintings lends them an inexpressible charm."

Rio also noted Moretto's "calm and noble imagination, a spirit at once tender and serene, and a greater aptitude for meditation than for the intuition of sublime things."'

Moretto was the dominant artist active in Brescia in the 1530s and 1540s.

He was a very active member of the Scuola del Santissimo Sacramento attached to the cathedral in Brescia and painted a group of pictures for the confraternity

He and the Brescian school at the time were intent on depicting humble and natural reality

It is a puzzling and complex work

Outside a fortified town or fortress, the man - a solitary -  has been reading a book

It seems a dull and oppressive day

It is a sombre work

The landscape is dark and strange and it has been noted that it is similar to the landscape depicted by Giorgione in his Tempest

The work is Christian allegory and the artist is obviously familiar with Titian`s Noli me Tangere  (now in The National Gallery, London)

In his reading, the man has come to a part of the text from the Psalms (Psalm 31, verses 17 - 18):
"17 Illustra faciem tuam super servum tuum;
salvum me fac in misericordia tua.
18 Domine, non confundar, quoniam invocavi te.
Erubescant impii, et deducantur in infernum"
"17 Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; save me in thy mercy.
18 Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon thee. Let the wicked be ashamed, and be brought down to hell."
He drops the book and we see what he has been reading

We see what he sees now: Christ standing before him. A risen Christ but carrying his Cross which he is just about to plant in the ground

Psalm 31 is one of the keys to understanding the painting

It is a lament. The man is alone and isolated and being hounded by all, his enemies. He is in distress

What has gone before in the narrative of the painting is in the first sixteen verses, the ones before we see written in the book

In full the Psalm reads:

"For the leader. A psalm of David.
2 In you, LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me; 
3 incline your ear to me;
make haste to rescue me!
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to save me. 
4 For you are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me. 
5 Free me from the net they have set for me,
for you are my refuge. 
6 Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, LORD, God of truth. 
7 You hate those who serve worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD. 
8 I will rejoice and be glad in your mercy,
once you have seen my misery,
[and] gotten to know the distress of my soul. 
9 You will not abandon me into enemy hands,
but will set my feet in a free and open space. 
10 Be gracious to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
affliction is wearing down my eyes,
my throat and my insides. 
11 My life is worn out by sorrow,
and my years by sighing.
My strength fails in my affliction;
my bones are wearing down. 
12 To all my foes I am a thing of scorn,
and especially to my neighbours
a horror to my friends.
When they see me in public,
they quickly shy away. 
3 I am forgotten, out of mind like the dead;
I am like a worn-out tool. 
14 I hear the whispers of the crowd;
terrors are all around me.
They conspire together against me;
they plot to take my life. 
15 But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, “You are my God.” 
16 My destiny is in your hands;
rescue me from my enemies,
from the hands of my pursuers. 
17 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your mercy. 
18 Do not let me be put to shame,
for I have called to you, LORD.
Put the wicked to shame;
reduce them to silence in Sheol. 
19 Strike dumb their lying lips,
which speak arrogantly against the righteous
in contempt and scorn. 
20 How great is your goodness, Lord,
stored up for those who fear you.
You display it for those who trust you,
in the sight of the children of Adam. 
21 You hide them in the shelter of your presence,
safe from scheming enemies.
You conceal them in your tent,
away from the strife of tongues. 
22 Blessed be the LORD,
marvelously he showed to me
his mercy in a fortified city. 
23 Though I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your eyes.”
Yet you heard my voice, my cry for mercy,
when I pleaded with you for help. 
24 Love the LORD, all you who are faithful to him.
The LORD protects the loyal,
but repays the arrogant in full. 
25 Be strong and take heart,
all who hope in the LORD."

In his misery and distress the man repeats the words of Christ on Calvary:
"6 Into your hands I commend my spirit"
They are the last words of Compline, the last prayer of the night

In the painting we see God`s face shining on his servant, saving and redeeming through his infinite mercy and love. The servant sees the face of God

On the column there is another inscription

The abbreviated inscription reads:
The text is from St Paul`s First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim. ii. 5):
 "Unus enim Deus, unus et mediator Dei et hominum homo Christus Jesus"
" There is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus."
The theme is individual salvation

The devotee calls and looks on the face of Christ.

Christ beckons him forward but is looking at the top right of the painting: angels ascending into Heaven

On the far left one can just see the shepherd with his flock of sheep. There is a sheep around his shoulders as he carries it to safety,  a symbol of the Good Shepherd and the mercy of God

We recall the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: 1 - 7 and in particular verse 5:
"And when he does find it [the lost sheep], he sets it on his shoulders with great joy"