Once again, Ellyn von Huben finds a work of art and manages to let us in to the story unlike anyone we know. She did it today with Zurbaran's "Crucifixion," which is a beautiful, tragic and telling a piece to reflect upon on this Good Friday. And if you are lucky enough to be within striking distance to the Art Institute of Chicago where it is housed, go.
With this being Holy Week, my mind is drawn to the exquisite Tenebrist painting by Francisco de Zurbarán — “Agnus Dei” (or “Lamb of God.”) It’s not surprising that I would be drawn to the work of Zurbarán, often referred to as the “Spanish Caravaggio.” The depth and drama of Caravaggio’s work had grabbed me from the first slide I saw in my first at history class; there was a hypnotic appeal to the violent contrast of light and dark and tangible hyper-realism used to dramatic effect.
Holy Week, our time of Passover preparation, calls us to meditate on our unblemished Paschal lamb. This is not to be confused with the cuddly lambs that greet us in the store aisles when we do our Easter basket shopping. The truth of what awaits the Paschal lamb is harsh. Our Lord himself must have seen many similar lambs, awaiting their moment of sacrifice in the temple. As I mentioned in a previous review of Dr. Brant Pitre’s book, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” we see a description of thousands of unblemished lambs sacrificed in the temple; an event that is hard to imagine, if one gives permission to the imagination to wonder about the harsh sights, sounds and smells. A moderate amount of blood has a distinct smell that is hard to forget, so much blood must have been overwhelming. The bloody sacrifice of thousands of lambs conjures a scene that even Quentin Tarantino would have difficulty recreating.
But what about the “Agnus Dei”? This lamb is different. He is here to remind us of the one sacrifice that is necessary for mankind. The sacrifice that is to pay a debt that he does not owe for we, who owe a debt we cannot pay. Zurbarán has captured this calm moment, of the unblemished lamb, legs bound and prepared for sacrifice. All we must do is follow the story that we know is to come. As Pitre said in his book, “That’s what happens to Passover lambs. They don’t make it out alive.” [p. 164]...
On this Good Friday, Ellyn von Huben offers a poignant reflection on three depictions of the Crucified Savior which are displayed at the Art Institute of of Chicago. The images and accompanying commentary serve as the occasion for a prayerful recollection of the salvific event of Christ's Paschal Mystery.
In his profound meditation on the last words of Christ, Death on a Friday Afternoon, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus begins with a caution to the reader against a rush to Easter. He asks us to linger a while with our crucified Lord. This is a caution that I now reread every Lent. For there is more to Holy Week than stifling the impulse to lunge at a basket of Cadbury Creme Eggs or making reservations for a leisurely Easter brunch. It is the time to linger at the foot of the cross.
With that in mind - in fact, while paging through this Lenten favorite while on the train - I spent an afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. I savored time with a variety of exquisite depictions of the Crucifixion, each offering its own specific spiritual gift...