Luke 20: 33 “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Resurrection of the Flesh, fresco, 1499-1502, Luca Signorelli, 1441-1523
Art created in Italy during the turn of the century from the 1490s to the 1520s elicits a sense of awe in us even today. During those years, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Leonardo painted the “Last Supper,” Raphael painted “The School of Athens,” and Luca Signorelli painted his fresco cycle in Orvieto Cathedral. Artists of the High Renaissance achieved their remarkable results because problems that dogged earlier artists for many centuries had been resolved.
The problem of creating pictorial space was resolved in the early fifteenth century but creating a convincing likeness of a human figure from any point of view was another major challenge. Figures in early paintings were depicted usually in a front or side view with little or no sense of movement; they often were ill-proportioned, stiff in appearance, and in sculpture-like poses. Signorelli’s mastery of anatomy, perspective, and foreshortening gave him the skills and freedom to paint the human form in every conceivable position. He seemed to delight in doing so.
At the Cappella Nova (the “New Chapel” – now called the Chapel of San Brizio) in the Cathedral at Orvieto, Signorelli was commissioned first to complete ceiling frescos that were begun by Fra Angelico. Signorelli’s work impressed his patrons (also, his fee was less than that of other artists and he worked faster) and this led to a commission to paint seven side walls. Among the frescos of the side walls are scenes depicting the end of time. The painting, “Resurrection of the Flesh,” illustrates the text found in the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment…. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51-52, RSV)
In this painting, two larger than life angels are in the sky. They have sounded their trumpets (with Crusader flags attached) and the dead are emerging from the earth; many have risen in full flesh. Others are only partially above the surface and are in the process of lifting themselves out. Some are still in skeleton form; here and there only a skull has popped up. In the central foreground, two men are assisting full-fleshed figures that are emerging and on the far right a man is having a conversation with a group of standing skeletons. Signorelli’s skills matched his fertile imagination and his ability to depict freely the human figure impressed and influenced many of his contemporaries; Michelangelo was among his admirers.
[Signorelli did not seem to have an interest in the accuracy of a skeleton’s form. His rendering of the pelvis is quite inaccurate.]
Hovak Najarian © 2013