The influence of Franciscan spirituality gave a renewed meaning to earthbound reality and triggered a major transformation in art history. Begining with Giotto, artists began to focus on created reality as a source for artistic inspiration. The artists that followed him in this development continued to paint the Resurrection, which was now imbued with a new significance as artistic developments came to be applied to old models. In the Scrovegni Chapel, Giotto’s inclusion of the sleeping soldiers in his Noli Me Tangere (above) is interesting as it suggests that Jesus has just exited the tomb. This image has its origins in the Rabbula Gospel mentioned in the last post.
The first image of the Resurrection as a “snapshot” of an actual event is in Pietro Lorenzetti’s Resurrection of 1320, followed a few years later by Ugolino di Nerio in his Santa Croce Altar piece of 1324.
Artistically influenced by Giotto, in these paintings Christ continues to be earthbound, his burial cloth hanging from his limbs as he steps up and out of his tomb. The soldiers sleeping at his feet inhabit the same realistic space. This particular scene, being non-scriptural, has been rejected in traditional Orthodox imagery. Yet, Jesus did exit from the tomb, it was an event that happened, and therefore within the canon of Occidental art it is perfectly acceptable.
Between 1300 and 1500, this new version of the Resurrection continues to be a dominant theme in the artistic oeuvre. Fra Angelico depicts the traditional themes of Resurrection in the developing western style. His Harrowing of Hell is a straightforward and rather uninteresting scene of Christ freeing Adam and others from Hades .
In Fra Angelico’s Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb, he includes the figure of Christ in a glorious mandorla hovering above the open sarcophagus.
Piero della Francesca takes Ugolino’s model and gives it new life. Piero’s figures have a very specific individuality and are set into a precise illusionistic space.
This depiction of the body of Christ, both strong and tender, exiting from his earthly tomb, becomes the model for Western artists’ depiction of the Lord for the next several hundred years.
Cecco da Carravaggio 1619
Noyel Coypel 1700
Carl Bloch 1881