The Sickness Unto Death Pt. III: Foreshortened Christ

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The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of the Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis


Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1480

"Life is for the living
I've heard tell that it is while we are young
In the morning sun
You take every year as it comes,
But when your life is over
All those years fold up like an accordion
They collapse just like a broken lung"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon

Most paintings of Jesus' death focus on his resurrection, ascension, or divine heritage. They seem weightless, light, and joyous. After all, he alone succeeded in conquering death. Yet Andrea Mantegna's The Lamentation over the Dead Christ paints a strikingly different picture of the death of Christ.

His green and yellow skin drapes itself over his insides, much like the blanket that covers his body. The stigmata on his hands and feet are a deep, festering red. The flesh at the edges of the wounds hangs in hideous folds. His large torso - accentuated by the foreshortened perspective - seems heavier than the stone slab upon which he lays. Upon his face he wears an expression of pain and weariness. This is not the rest of the Messiah before his ascension. This is the body of a human being, unceremoniously taken down from his place of execution. The only indication of divine presence is the faint halo that crowns his head. However, even its inclusion cannot save the work from feeling like a struggle, not only with death, but with faith.

The two mourners that attend Christ's deathbed give the death a sense of finality. Until he rises again, if he rises again, all that the mourners know with a certainty is that the human form is a frail thing, even when inhabited by the Son of God. While this notion certainly makes the viewer more apt to relate to Christ, it also suggests that Mantegna may have been wrestling with his belief in Christ's divinity, and the promise of an afterlife. Neither the mourners nor Mantegna can comprehend what awaits their savior beyond the grave. Indeed, they cannot be sure that anything awaits them, nor that he is their savior at all. All this must be taken on faith, and in the face of death, faith can be a weak crutch to lean on.


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