February 18, 2018
The Blood of Christ in the New Testament and Christian Iconography
THE LAST SUPPER
Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507)
Cappella Sistina, Vatican
From the Wedding at Cana to the Book of Revelations, wine appears frequently in the New Testament. Wine plays a role in several Bible stories, most notably the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the Last Supper and the Supper at Emmaus. Although the ‘mystical winepress’ does not appear in the Bible, it is used in iconography to refer directly to the blood of Christ.
All Bible quotations in English are taken from the 1769 King James Version (KJV) translation of original Hebrew and Greek texts.
THE MARRIAGE AT CANA
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
Musee du Louvre, Paris
Veronese sets the scene with a mixture of profane and sacred elements. Religious symbols presaging the Passion of the Christ are placed beside 16th-century gold and silver tableware. The furniture, table, ewers, cups and crystal vases reveal the splendor of the feast. Every guest at the table has his own place setting, consisting of a napkin, forks and a trencher. The artist has missed no details for the purpose of this double-reading. While a servant carves the meat – symbol of the mystical body of Christ – at the centre of the composition, boxes of quinces – symbols of marriage – are served to the guests as a dessert. Veronese puts together a veritable mise en scene. The theme allows him to create a stage-like background setting for his characters. The composition, divided in two, shows...
PARABLE OF THE WORKERS IN THE VINEYARD
Salomon Koninck (1609-1656)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
It is the harvest season. A vineyard owner can see that it is time to pick the grapes. Around 6 o’clock in the morning, he leaves his house and goes to the market in search of some day-labourers. He hires several workers at the rate of one denier for the day. At the time, agricultural workers would labour from dawn until dusk, from around 6am to 6pm. Three hours later, at 9am, the vineyard owner returns to the market to take on more workers. He promises them a reasonable wage, but without specifying a precise amount. As the work continues, the vineyard owner sees that he is going to need even more help...
THE LAST SUPPER
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
This is Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work of the 1490s. The scene is painted directly onto the wall of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The painting shows the last supper of Christ and his disciples before his arrest and execution. It shows the exact moment where Jesus declares: “one of you will betray me”. Da Vinci conveys the twelve disciples’ consternation at this news. The writer Mathieu Bandello observed Leonardo at work and wrote that, some days, he would paint from dawn to dusk without stopping – even for meals – and then would stop work completely for three or four days in a row. According to Vasari, this work pattern angered the Prior, who harassed the painter until da Vinci asked the Duke of Milan, Ludovic Sforza, to step in....
THE SUPPER AT EMMAUS
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
National Gallery, Londres
Emmaus is cited in an episode of the last chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. On Easter morning, Christ has just risen from the dead following his crucifixion and entombment. He appears to two of his disciples who are on the road to Emmaus, having fled Jerusalem after the crucifixion. They invite Jesus to eat with them despite not recognising him: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24: 30-1). This first version of the painting, bathed in light (Caravaggio was to produce a second, much darker version of the scene five years later), illustrate the renewal of faith brought about by this encounter with the risen Christ...
THE HARVEST OF THE EARTH
Jacobello Alberegno (...-bef. 1397)
Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice
"And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe...." (Revelation 14:15-19).
CHRIST BENEATH THE WINEPRESS
Ambrogio Bergognone (given to)
First chapel of the right side of Santa Maria Incoronata, Milan
During the Middle Ages and up until the 16th century, the fermentation of wine was considered as a transformative process, during which the pure was separated from the impure. This conception was related to the Christian symbolism of the Eucharist, where the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood are represented by bread and wine. These foodstuffs then become the source of eternal life and redemption for those who take communion. The body of Christ is either represented lying under the wheel of a winepress or upright, treading the grapes while his blood mixes with the juice. First appearing in the 12th century, this image was exceptionally popular at the end of the Middle Ages...