B149_Edvard Munch_Golgotha_1900_ART69997.jpg

Edvard Munch

Golgotha, 1900, Oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm, Munchmuseet, Oslo, © The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY HIP / Art Resource, NY

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A Heavenly Hand

Commentary by

‘The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me’, says Jesus in this passage (John 10:25; cf. 5:36).

There is a small element in Edvard Munch’s Golgotha that one might easily miss, and which may imply a Trinitarian dimension; the shape of an upturned hand seems to be suggested in the red cloud above Christ’s head. A hand emerging from the clouds is one of the oldest Christian symbols of God the Father. One could argue therefore that the image implies, as John 10:22–44 tells us, that the saving work of Christ the Son is at the same time of, with, and through the Father.

The absence of the Holy Spirit in this image is notable but, in fact, need not surprise. Even at the zenith of Trinitarian imagery in the Renaissance and Baroque, the Spirit is occasionally absent or barely visible as a tiny dove, hovering between the Father and the Son. Interestingly, this occasional neglect of the Holy Spirit in art is somewhat reflective of the history of Christian theology which has tended to focus more on Christ and the Father than on the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is rarely depicted in modern art. However, this work by Munch—through its rendering of Christ on the Cross and the red cloud as an apparent allusion to the hand of God—offers an understated, subtle Trinitarian image of Christ who, in unison with his Father, does his Father’s works.