The Meditation on the Passion by Vittore Carpaccio

Vittore Carpaccio

The Meditation on the Passion, c.1490, Oil and tempera on wood, 70.5 x 86.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1911, 11.118, www.metmuseum.org

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My Redeemer Lives

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In his shorter commentary on Romans 8, Karl Barth describes a state of existence in which humanity has been ‘judged and put to death on the cross’, and yet in which the fear of death has been removed because it ‘has already taken place’ in Christ and ‘we no longer have to endure it.’ This is life under the ‘shadow’ of the cross, but that shadow is ‘the herald of the glory that awaits’ us (Barth 1959:97).

Vittore Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion might give us some sense of this mixture of fatal condemnation, and ultimate hope. Death is certainly prominent: the figure of the dead Christ sits slumped on a ruinous marble throne, in the dusty, bone-strewn, foreground. The crown of thorns and the sharp, lance-like shadows on the ground, are reminders of the Passion. Combining aspects of the Man of Sorrows, Christ on the Cold Stone, and Christ Enthroned, he is accompanied, not by supporting angels, a mourning Virgin, or lamenting disciples, but by Job (on the right) and St Jerome with his companion lion (on the left).

The beleaguered prophet, and the fourth-century ascetic saint—translator of the Bible, and author of a commentary on Job—provide a counterweight to what Barth called the ‘inexorable fatality’ of the shadow of the cross (1959: 97). The crumbling marble block on which Job sits is inscribed with some of his most celebrated words: ‘my Redeemer lives’ (Job 19:25–27). Job, the great sufferer, proffers the hope of the resurrection and points towards the viewers as if to indicate that Christ’s death is for them, while Jerome’s outward gaze reinforces this connection. The shadow of death is not permanent, and Job and Jerome testify to the coming glory.

 

References

Barth, Karl. 1959. A Shorter Commentary on Romans, trans. by D.H. van Daalen (London: SCM)

Quash, Ben. 2013. Found Theology: History, Imagination, and the Holy Spirit (London: Bloomsbury), pp. 89–121

Reddaway, Chloë R. 2019. Strangeness and Recognition: Mystery and Familiarity in Renaissance Images of Christ (Turnhout: Brepols), pp.156–158


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