Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Week - Descent From the Cross

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

In the late afternoon on the day of Jesus' crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus requested and obtained permission to retrieve his body. They did not want their friend to be demoralized any further and wished to offer him a proper Jewish burial. Because of the lack of time until sundown, and with the Jewish Sabbath day fast approaching, they hurriedly retrieved his body, made very basic funeral preparations, and buried it in a tomb.

Artisans have depicted the retrieval of Jesus' body in many ways. Typically, the act of removing Jesus from the cross of crucifixion has been called the Descent From the Cross in artistic circles.

During the 9th and 10th centuries, artists began to depict the solemn scene for their sponsors. The trend in Western art was for themes of Christianity and artwork depicting the scenes of the last days of Christ were in high demand.

Albrecht Durer, was a German painter who flourished during the late 1400s/early 1500s. In addition to oil painting, he was proficient with watercolor painting, as well as woodblock engravings. His artwork is well-known today.

Rwanda issued a stamp with Durer's Lamentation For Christ painting. The stamp features one of the more well-known paintings of Durer. It shows Jesus after he was brought down from the cross, and was beginning to be enshrouded with burial clothes.

Like other depictions of art from the 1500s, this painting represents the people surrounding Jesus in clothing of the 1500s, as opposed to clothing typical of the New Testament times. The women wear headpieces that are European in design and with multiple layers of colored cloth, which, if even available during those times, would have only been owned by the very wealthy.

Interestingly, the people of this artwork, as well as many works of art of the era, are decided European, and not the olive-skinned Hebrew peoples that would have been around Jesus.

When someone during the 1500s sponsored artwork, their image would frequently appear in the painting, as if they were part of the subject. In the Christianized West, it was common for sponsors to have been portrayed as one of the mourners of Jesus, thus identifying them to be of the Christian faith. It is unknown if any of those depicted in Durer's painting were modeled after his sponsors or friends, but it is likely that the European-looking people were. It would not have been uncommon during that era.

After Jesus was removed from the cross, he was given very quick burial preparations, and then laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb was sealed and the disciples of Jesus went back to their homes to mourn. For the entire Jewish Sabbath day, they contemplated their life without Christ, not understanding that this was not the end, it was just the beginning...

Be sure to read tomorrow's blog entry for the continuation of the story.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

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