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An Image for Good Friday: The Isenheim Altarpiece

Here is my favorite picture of the Crucifixion.

It’s Matthias Grünewald’s Isemheim Altarpiece located in Colmar, France.

I first saw it in Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism DVD series in Episode 2: “Happy Are We: The Teachings of Jesus”, and was instantly captivated by it. Between seeing the image and hearing Fr. Barron’s commentary (transcribed below), I felt like I was transported to the foot of the Cross. I had never seen an image that so vividly made real to me the love and the suffering of our Lord who gave all for us.

Prints of it can be purchased HERE.

I’ve included more images below, after Fr. Barron’s comments.

Isenheim Altarpiece full

Isenheim 1

 

Fr. Barron’s comments on the Isenheim Altarpiece from the Catholicism DVD, Episode 2: “Happy Are We: The Teachings of Jesus”

Look at Jesus mouth just agape in speechless anguish. Look at the terrible wounds in his hands and his feet, the blisters and wounds all over his body. There’s nothing the least bit sentimental about this portrayal.

I’m here because of something Thomas Aquinas said. Thomas said, “If you want the perfect exemplification of the Beatitudes, look to Christ crucified.” He specified, “If you want to be happy, despise what Jesus despised on the cross. Love what Jesus loved on the cross.” What did he despise? Those four things in which we typically seek our happiness.

Wealth. He has none of it. He’s stripped naked.

Pleasure. He’s at the limit of psychological and physical suffering.

Power. He has none. He’s nailed to the cross. He can’t even move.

Honor. They mock him as he’s publicly displayed crucified at the end of his life.

Jesus is detached from the four things in which we typically seek our joy.

What did he love on the cross? He loved doing the will of his Father. He was, on the cross, the single-hearted one. He was, on the cross, the one who hungers for righteousness. And therefore, on the cross, he was the ultimate peacemaker. He was, on the cross, the ultimate bearer of the Divine Mercy. Though it’s very strange to say, though is it very high paradox, if Aquinas is right, that is a picture of a happy man.

There’s more. Notice please how John the Baptist, to the right, indicates Jesus but in this odd, contorted way. It’s as though all of our expectations have to be turned around, and then we can see that that indeed is a picture of freedom. That indeed is a picture of joy.

Isenheim 1

Isenheim 2

Isenheim 3

Isenheim 4

Isenheim 5

 

 

 

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One comment on “An Image for Good Friday: The Isenheim Altarpiece

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