The Blood of the Redeemer by Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini

The Blood of the Redeemer, c.1465, Tempera on panel, 47.6 x 35.2 cm, The National Gallery, London; Bought 1887, NG1233, © National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

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Seeing What God Sees

Commentary by

In The Blood of the Redeemer we gaze out of a tiled sanctuary, past Christ and the balustrade—a version of altar-rails—and to the landscape beyond.

Along a winding path walk a figure in dark clothes and a smaller attendant, from the ruined town on the right to the city on the left, just touched with the pink rays of dawn. The path will bring them to the foot of the platform on which Christ stands. Their route from desolation to the new day is via Christ and his redeeming blood. The larger figure holds a white cloth, perhaps such a ‘pall’ as was used to cover the eucharistic vessels. He may even be meant as a Dominican, if we can take his dark blue cloak for the Dominicans’ black.

All of this still leaves us wondering, can we identify, in this mysterious scene, our own stand-point, from which we have this privileged view of Christ and of our world beyond? If we do imagine the tiled area as a church’s sanctuary, and the balustrade as its altar-rails, then the landscape is its (western) nave, and we are looking west.

Christ—both priest and victim—is standing at the east end of the church, in the place of the altar on which his death is recalled at every Eucharist. He is facing still further east, beyond the altar—and towards his own Father in heaven to whom as priest he is for all eternity offering his own blood.

Giovanni Bellini has given us the viewpoint of God.

We see here what God sees. With compassion, yes, and compunction; but above all, we see it with slowly dawning awe. The cherubs were around Christ’s calves; he has risen above them to the highest of heights. We are gazing as God gazes on Christ in the heavenly Holy of Holies where he pleads, on behalf of the world behind him, his blood of the New and everlasting Covenant.