Grunewald’s dead Christs

Have you discovered Daniel Mitsui’s blog “The Lion and the Cardinal” yet? He writes mostly about sacred art, mostly from a Catholic perspective.

Yet he ranges outside any strict boundary of his churchly allegiance to post fascinating studies like this one on Grunewald’s Christs.

Justifications for Grünewald’s dead Christs invariably invoke the writings of St. Bridget, St. Gertrude and other late mediaeval mystics, who described the Passion in gruesome detail. And it is true that, beginning in the 14th century, intense meditation on the physical suffering of Christ dominated spiritual writing as well as sacred art. The pious literature of the age even numbers the lashes that Our Lord received (5,475 according to Oliver Maillard). Late mediaeval art is morbid, somber and tragic; its crucified Christ is crowned with thorns, contorting under His own weight, streaming blood. His muscles and bones are visible beneath his stripped-away skin. This is the suffering Christ bearing the immeasurable sins of humanity.
But this is most emphatically NOT the Christ whom we encounter at Isenheim and at Karlsruhe. The difference is obvious; 5,475 scourges turn a body red, not green – and Grünewald’s Christ is green. It is the corruption of the tomb that turns a body green. Grünewald’s Christ does not bleed; he rots…

This is not, as Joris-Karl Huysmans fatuously claimed, the Christ of Justin, Basil, Cyril, Tertullian, the Christ of the apostolic Church… the Christ of the afflicted, of the beggar, of all those on whose indigence and helplessness the greed of their brother battens ; this is not their Christ at all. This is a Christ unknown to the mystics, unknown to the fathers, unknown to the poor and suffering; a Christ unknown to any Christian.

It is a Christ who has never risen from the dead.


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