The Resurrection in modern paintings

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), Christ and Mary Magdalene, a Finnish Legend (1890), oil on canvas, 216 x 152 cm, Ateneumin taidemuseo, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Finland. Wikimedia Commons.

In Friday’s article I showed a small selection of the many paintings of the Crucifixion. But that’s only half the festival of Easter: after the suffering, death and burial of Good Friday comes the Resurrection, without which Easter and the whole of Christian belief would be worthless. Yet paintings of Resurrection scenes are far fewer in number.

Neither is this helped by the differences between the Gospels and later accounts of the appearances of the resurrected Christ. In the New Testament Gospels (e.g. John 20:11-18), it was Mary Magdalene who was the first witness. As he had not at that time ascended to heaven, Christ warned her not to touch him, in Latin noli me tangere, but to tell the disciples of his Resurrection; this has become the most popular of Resurrection scenes in paintings.

Another episode took place on the road to, or in the town of Emmaus, when two disciples travelled there from Jerusalem. They recognised Christ as he “sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave it to them.” After a period of forty days, Christ ascended into heaven (Ascension), and the Holy Ghost came to launch the missionary task of the early church (Pentecost).

As with the Crucifixion, this year I show a selection of modern treatments of the Resurrection, starting with William Blake, this time just before the nineteenth century.

William Blake (1757–1827), Christ Appearing to His Disciples After the Resurrection (c 1795), color print (monotype), hand-colored with watercolor and tempera, 43.2 x 57.5 cm, The National Gallery of Art (Rosenwald Collection), Washington, DC. Courtesy of The National Gallery of Art.

Blake’s Christ Appearing to His Disciples/Apostles After the Resurrection is one of his large colour print series from 1795, and refers to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24 verses 36-40:
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, “Peace be unto you.” But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.

William Holman Hunt (1827–1910), Christ and the Two Marys (1847), oil on canvas, 117.5 x 94 cm, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia. Wikimedia Commons.

William Holman Hunt’s Christ and the Two Marys is a very early Pre-Raphaelite painting from 1847, the year before the formation of the Brethren, and a time when religious themes were popular among them. The two Marys are Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary, while Christ, his stigmata plainly visible, has cast off the bandages his body was wrapped in for burial.

Hans Thoma (1839–1924), Resurrection (1867), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Hans Thoma’s Resurrection (1867) is simpler and lacks witnesses. The banner isn’t intended to be a national flag, Thoma was German in any case, but was a common reference to the Crucifixion.

Nikolai Ge (1831–1894), Heralds of the Resurrection (1867), media and dimensions not known, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

Nikolai Ge’s Heralds of the Resurrection, also from 1867, probably shows Mary Magdalene rushing to tell the disciples of the news that Christ’s body was missing, and that he was resurrected. At the right are the guards who were placed at the tomb, perhaps.

Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917), Resurrection (1885), oil on canvas, 17.1 x 14.1 cm, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

This tiny painting of the Resurrection (1885) by Albert Pinkham Ryder is another noli me tangere, but has sadly suffered deterioration in its paint layer.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), Christ and Mary Magdalene, a Finnish Legend (1890), oil on canvas, 216 x 152 cm, Ateneumin taidemuseo, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Finland. Wikimedia Commons.

Several impossible legends grew about Mary Magdalene; here Albert Edelfelt’s Christ and Mary Magdalene, a Finnish Legend (1890) dresses her in contemporary clothing, and transports the two to the lakes and forests of Finland, where the first pale leaves of Spring are on the trees.

Fritz von Uhde (1848–1911), Touch me not. John 20:17 (1894), oil on canvas, 144.7 x 168.3 cm, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Fritz von Uhde has a similarly modern approach in Touch me not. John 20:17 from 1894, this time outside a small town in Germany.

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829–1908), Why seek ye the living among the dread? (St Luke, Chapter XIV, verse 5) (1896), oil on paper, 15.3 × 22.8 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s Why seek ye the living among the dead? (St Luke, Chapter XIV, verse 5) (1896) refers to the version in which Mary Magdalene and companion(s) return to Christ’s tomb, only to find its door open and the tomb empty. They are then greeted by two men who inform them that Christ has risen from the dead.

Stanhope depicts this in the style of a frieze, the four figures arranged across the painting in a single parallel plane. Although part of a quite complex Gospel narrative, he depicts only a limited window from the story, and in doing so makes his painting simpler and more direct.

Eugène Burnand (1850–1921), The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb on the Morning of the Resurrection (1898), oil, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Late in the nineteenth century, Eugène Burnand’s most successful painting was The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb on the Morning of the Resurrection from 1898, now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Their faces and hands tell so much, which is quite a surprise for an artist who had concentrated for his whole career on landscapes.

Albin Egger-Lienz (1868–1926), Resurrection (1923), oil on cardboard, 71.5 x 101 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Albin Egger-Lienz painted a thoroughly modern account in 1923-24. He developed the study above, known simply as Resurrection, into the finished painting of Resurrection of Christ below.

Albin Egger-Lienz (1868–1926), Resurrection of Christ (1923-24), oil on canvas, 197 x 247 cm, Tirol Art Museum, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

I wish you all a peaceful Easter, and peace most particularly for the people of Ukraine, and everyone around the world who is suffering as the result of war.