Monday, November 4, 2013

Alain de Botton on Velasquez

From this weekend's edition of The Wall Street Journal, Alain de Botton discusses Velasquez's painting, The Crucified Christ. According to the bio at the end of the article:

Mr. de Botton is the co-author with John Armstrong of "Art as Therapy" (Phaidon), from which this essay is adapted. From March to August 2014, Messrs. de Botton and Armstrong will rehang and recaption the works in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam according to the approach outlined in their book.

Comparing an "abstract black-and-white photo, "North Atlantic Ocean, Cliffs of Moher," by the Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto" to Diego Velazquez's great masterpiece, de Botton writes:

Turning now to "Christ Crucified" by Diego Velazquez, the greatest artist of Spain's 17th-century Golden Age, we move from the mundane to the transcendent. Velazquez shows us the son of God, the King of Kings, bleeding on the cross like an ordinary stricken man. He will be dead in a few moments.

Christianity is upfront about the idea that our lives can be burdened by suffering. It takes the view that loss, self-reproach, failure, regret, sickness and sadness will always find ways of entering life. Our troubles need practical help, of course. But Christianity identifies another need as well: for our suffering to have some honor or dignity.

This picture of the Crucifixion achieves that. It shows a good—indeed, a perfect—man being humiliated, injured and ultimately killed. It is tenderly sympathetic to sorrow without being hysterical or vengeful. It invites us to contemplate the centrality of suffering in the achievement of all valuable goals. Rather than concentrate on our moments of fulfillment, it directs our attention to the times of hardship and sacrifice and says that they are the most deserving of admiration. It strengthens us a little—and offers consolation—for the hard tasks of our lives.

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