There really are few words that can describe the significance of Good Friday. For me, art has always been the best way to depict that day. This piece by the early Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) is a fine example of that.
What I always love about Italian Renaissance art is the complete fusion of deep religious belief and artistic beauty. Mantegna’s works have a strange harshness to them, and as early examples of Renaissance classicism they lack the later poetic harmonies of Leonardo or Raphael. In some ways they seem more similar to Michelangelo’s paintings: stony, hard and full of force. Undoubtedly Michelangelo was influenced by Mantegna. Mantegna usually depicts his scenes with some sort of rocky background. His figures are clear, sharp and well defined. There is little softness in his paintings. Why did he do this? Like Michelangelo, Mantegna was heavily influenced by his training in sculpture, especially his study of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, and may of his paintings seem to reflect a love for the hard, severe qualities of that art form. This stark, tough harshness works well in depicting a scene such as the Crucifixion.
It is worth nothing that many works of Renaissance art were produced by and for religious institutions. When we see them today in a book or in a museum, we forget that they are meant to be devotional pieces. If you are ever fortunate enough to visit Italy and see these great works as they were originally meant to be seen, in Churches or Monasteries or other places of worship, then you attain a better and deeper sense of the spiritual significance of these masterpieces. And often, as with artists such as Michelangelo, the works are not merely maudlin expressions of religious faith, but rather reflections of the inner struggles the artist himself had with faith. I can definitely relate to that. Because so much of modern art lacks a spiritual component, or is openly hostile to such things, I have always loved the spiritual beauty of the great Italian Renaissance artworks.
But back to Good Friday. If there is any lesson to be taken from this darkest moment in the Christian story, it is the struggle and difficulty and darkness that faith can often lead to in our lives. This day seemed hopeless to all of Jesus’ followers. Little did they believe that the Resurrection would occur a few days later. So we too must remember in our darkest moments the hope of the Resurrection, we too must have hope in what is to come, and faith that God is still with us. After all, Faith, Hope and Love, these are the basics of the Christian message.