Painting the Crucifixion with Tears
Fra Angelico, one of my favorite religious artists, was not actually born with the name of Angelico.
This, I kind of figured! After all, there are many religious who assume the name of another saint when they accept Holy Orders. So, when I learned that Fra Angelico’s name at birth was Guido di Pietro, I was not surprised!
However, I was surprised when I learned that his name that he assumed was Fra Giovanni da Fiesole.
Where did the name Angelico come from then?
And so I researched more into this man to find out the answer to this mystery. And the answer? The name Angelico came because he was recognized by his other brothers as being saintly. And so they nicknamed him Fra Angelico, or the Angelic Friar, and the name stuck. As far as his actual santliness? He is currently on the path of canonization, and is considered Blessed by the Church!
But one of the stories about Fra Angelico captured my heart:
He wept while he painted scenes of the Crucifixion.
And so I would like to present to you this picture of the Crucifixion, as painted by Fra Angelico:
There’s a lot to process in this scene. There’s the image of Christ with His eyes closed, indicating that He has just died, while angels fly around Him with anguish on their faces. In their hands are dishes or chalices that collect the Blood of Christ. But that doesn’t stop the Blood coming from His feet, which drips down to the ground where it splashes on the skull at the foot of the Cross.
The soldiers that surround Him look at Him uncomfortably, each with a different expression on their face, while the saints at the bottom of the Cross comfort each other, attending to the fainting woman. (The museum describes the fainting woman as the Virgin Mary, but I think it’s probably Mary Magdalene, as our Blessed Mother is often depicted as being veiled by the Cross, whereas Mary Magdalene is often depicted with her hair loose and flowing and collapsed at the foot of the Cross.)
I look over a lot of religious artwork, and honestly? As a devout Christian, sometimes looking over these graphic depictions of our Lord being tortured and crucified can be very heart-wrenching and I just have to take a break. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to paint these sorts of graphic scenes, sometimes working on it for years at a time.
No wonder Fra Angelico wept as he painted Our Lord being crucified.
And yet, here we are, almost six hundred years later, looking at this sacred artwork and still being moved by the horror and yet the profound beauty of the Cross. And, through this painting, we are reminded that Jesus’s command to carry our cross and follow Him is not a command to take lightly. It is a profound and serious command that we ought to take very seriously.
And often, there are tears involved.
Yet, even through the tears, there is a promise:
3I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”
So may we shoulder our crosses and follow Christ, wherever we are led.
Because, ultimately, it will lead us to Christ and eternal life with Him.