Jesus Christ has been an iconic subject of religious painting for centuries. The universality of the Christ figure transcends language and nationality in Western culture. Representations of Jesus appear all over the world in almost every style imaginable. The greatest artists of the Renaissance as well as other periods have devoted entire careers to depicting Christ.
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"The Last Supper"
Painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century, "The Last Supper" depicts Christ and his twelve disciples at supper on the eve of Christ's crucifixion. The complexity of the mural with its thirteen distinct figures has been a topic of considerable debate. However, scholars generally agree the painting depicts the moment when Jesus declares that someone will betray him. That man is Judas, whose face in the painting is shadowed. The figure of Judas holds a small bag that probably contains money.
"Christ Carrying the Cross"
The celebrated 19th century Spanish artist El Greco devoted numerous paintings to Christ. Unlike da Vinci, he eschewed narrative detail to focus on a lone subject. "Christ Carrying the Cross" focuses on Christ carrying the cross. The figure of Christ has a heavenwards gaze. The background has been obscured so that the viewer's attention is directed toward the figure as a devotional image. Another El Greco painting, "Christ on the Cross," depicts the crucifixion. A gaunt, tormented Jesus appears in an empty mountain landscape. As with El Greco's other paintings, the gaze of Jesus is directed upward toward heaven.
Reputedly Raphael's last painting, "The Transfiguration" (ca 1519) recounts Jesus' transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Appearing in the sky, Christ speaks to Moses and the prophet Elijah who float on either side of him. The lower half of the scene depicts Christ casting out an evil spirit from a demoniac youth. The composition of the painting divides the painting into lower and upper halves, representing the dichotomy of worldly and heavenly aspects of life.
Another common depiction of Jesus celebrates his birth. The image of the Madonna with the Christ Child is just as common as images of Jesus' transfiguration and crucifixion. One of the more noted nativity scenes is Botticelli's "Mystic Nativity" (ca 1500). The tableau shows both men and angels gathered to witness the birth of Christ. As noted by the British National Gallery, the painting is more complex than typical birth depictions. It uses symbolism that combines the New Testament accounts of Christ's birth with a vision of his Second Coming as described in the Book of Revelation.
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