Sunday Morning at St. Hugh's in Idyllwild, California
Cross Formed by Clouds | Art for Advent 1C
Luke 21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds, 1734, Oil on Canvas, Louis de Silvestre, 1675-1760
In the motion picture based on Irving Stone’s novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo was asked by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo resisted. He worked on the fresco for a short time and then left. He went into hiding and while the Pope was trying to locate him, movie goers were given “the inspiration scene.” Michelangelo was on a mountain when he saw clouds come together to form an image of “The Creation of Adam.” Being given a sign and a direction, he returned to paint the Chapel’s ceiling. The scene in the movie was the result of creative license but we all have had moments when we noticed images in rock formations, reflections, or even in mechanical objects. Leonardo da Vinci suggested artists use these images as points of departure when developing compositions for paintings. Louis de Silvestre did just that and his title, “Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” lets us in on the source of his inspiration.
Louis de Silvestre, a French artist of the Baroque Period, excelled in portrait painting. His patrons were primarily the wealthy noble class; among his patrons was Louis XV, King of France. He accepted a position of honor as painter at the court of Augustus II, King of Poland and worked there primarily as a portraitist for thirty years.
“Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” contrasts greatly from the rich color and baroque style found in de Silvestre’s portraits. The painting is simple in composition and subdued in its colors. There is no Roman soldier with a spear at the base of the cross or angels in the sky. Mary is not there nor are there people standing nearby in despair. None of the additions that artists have included typically in the crucifixion can be found in de Silvestre’s painting. Christ is alone. If we were not given the fact that it was painted in 1734 it would be difficult to place it in a time frame and it would be equally difficult to determine the artist. The style is neither characteristic of the baroque period nor of de Silvestre’s usual style. “Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” is related stylistically to some aspects of early nineteenth century Romanticism and would not seem out of place in an exhibit of early twentieth century Surrealism. There is a sense of mystery in its starkness. Louis de Silvestre was not interested in painting a series of cloud studies as did John Constable. It was this single unusual cloud formation that received his attention. Scientists could explain undoubtedly the cause of the phenomenon but for de Silvestre it was an inspiration. The cloud served as a catalyst to a spiritual moment that he painted to share with others.
“Pareidolia” is the psychological term used to describe the seeing of images such as animals in clouds, faces in rock formations, or the familiar man in the moon; such observations seem to be an innate human response and universal. In 1996, the face of Mother Teresa was discovered on a cinnamon bun (dubbed the “nun bun”). An image of Jesus discovered on a grilled cheese sandwich was placed on eBay in 2004 and sold for $28,000. There tends to be an increase in religious image discoveries during holidays.