ANDRÉ DURAND Twenty-First Century Paintings
ORDEAL BY ANGELS
Oil on linen
Christ at the Column (The Flagellation of Christ), 1606-1607, is a painting by the Italian master Caravaggio (1571-1610), in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, France.
This is one of two versions of the Flagellation of Christ by Caravaggio painted late in 1606 or early in 1607, soon after his arrival in Naples. The painting shows the flagellation of Christ following his arrest and trial and before his crucifixion. The ordel was traditionally depicted in front of a column, possibly alluding to the Roman occupation of Palestine. The snub-nosed torturer on the far right is recognizably the same model who posed as one of the torturers in The Flagellation of Christ (Naples), and as the executioner in Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (London).
Including the relief nudes of an youthful prophet Daniel on early Christian sarcophagi, Adam and later Saint Sebastian, once the Roman Catholic Church became the main patron of the arts in Europe, the only other legitimate and fertile opportunity to depict the male nude in sculpture and painting was the Body of Christ. With the doctrinal necessity of depicting the incarnation in its wholeness, the artist had to emphasise, veiled or other wise Christ’s genitalia. As Leo Steinberg says in The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivino, “ one must recognize an ostentatio genitalium comparable to the cannonic ostentatio vulnerum…the emphases recurs in images of the dead Christ or of the mystical Man of Sorrows.
Christ, the infant babe with magi scrutinising his sexuality; Christ baptised, naked in the Jordan; Christ flagellated, stripped at the column, crucified with out the heretical dalmatica, unisex over-garment of the Byzantines; Christ dead in Mary’s lap or supported by angels; Christ entombed; Christ risen –in every image un shrouded, a liturgical canon which has exercised the imagination of artists for six hundred years with amazingly fruitful results. Christ’s naked body has served artists as a symbol almost as well, as did the bodies of the Greek gods and heroes. Now bearded, with a centre part, His metamorphosis complete, the ‘Christian Dionysus’ continued to express purity, pathos, ecstasy and remained a virile symbol until it began its neo- classic descent into limbo and finally bathos.
In the Sistine Chapel, by out folding and multiplying Christ’s body, Michelangelo bequeathed us panoply of male nudes, a host of wingless angels – Leonardo da Vinci reflecting on Last Judgement, opined that Michelangelo had exhausted the subject.
I was attracted by the idea of painting a full-length flagellation based on Caravaggio’s picture in Rouen, not only because I was convinced that the Rouen Christ at the Column is just a fragment of a large altarpiece, but also because a head with such an exquisite profile as Caravaggio’s Christ desperately needed a body worthy of it. Caravaggio had given me the challenge and a genuine opportunity to paint Christ’s Body as an unblemished presence oblivious of pain undefiled by time or torturer.
I began to imagine what Christ’s Body would look like full length; how His bare feet would touch the dirt at the base of the column.
Furthermore, in flinging this subject in my direction, Caravaggio also gave me the opportunity to paint at least three male nudes without fig leaves or loin-cloths. The sadists in paintings and sculptures of the flagellation have consistently inspired remarkable nudes in every conceivable type of contorted pose. In my flagellation scene, Ordeal by Angels the triad of male nudes exhibit three mutations of the form: Christ, perforce Classical; the two angels, Hellenistic and Mannerist.