Lent: Murillo and Botticelli

Hi everyone, I hope everyone is having a great morning! This week I would like to discuss two artworks by Bartolomeo Murillo and Sandro Botticelli. Because it is Lent, I wanted to discuss some artworks that focus on events that occurred during these days in Christ’s life. Therefore, it is only right to start off the discussion with the Baptism of Christ and the Temptations of Christ.

To begin with, the Baptism of Christ was the point in Christ’s life when he was beginning his ministry. This was the point in which Christ was leaving his life as a carpentry and, instead, beginning to preach and teach. When Christ went to St. John the Baptist, his cousin, he asked St. John to baptize him. Once St. John baptized him, the Holy Spirit descended “like a dove” and a voice in Heaven, God’s voice, said, “‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:13-17).

Afterwards, Christ spent forty days suffering in the desert. He fasted for those forty days, without food or water. During this time, he was tempted by the Devil three times. The first time was when the Devil asked Christ to turn a stone into bread. The second time was when the Devil took him to the “holy city” and placed him on the temple, and then he told Christ to throw himself because God’s angel would save him. The last temptation was when the Devil took Christ to a mountain and promised him all the riches in the world but only if he worshiped him and not God. All three of these temptations Christ was able to resist (Matthew 4:1-11).

The first painting we have is Murillo’s The Baptism of Christ, created in 1655.

In this painting, we see St. John on the right. He is wearing a haired, brown clothe, which was typical attire for him in paintings. He is holding onto a stick with a mini cross on it; this attribute has often been seen in paintings of the Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist. Here, St. John is pouring water from the Jordan river on Christ’s head from a shell. Christ is wearing the same attire that we see in Crucifixion paintings: he is only covered by a white cloth. The dove, mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, is coming down to Earth, and we can see God’s words coming done towards Christ. This is an important beginning to Christ’s eventual ministry work.

The next artwork is by Botticelli, and it is called the Temptations of Christ; it was created in 1481 and 1482. This work is a fresco in the Vatican.

Botticelli, Temptations of Christ, 1481 and 1482

Image from Wikipedia

The sequence of the Christ’s Temptations goes from left to right in the background. In the left, we see Christ being first tempted by the Devil to turn stone into bread. In the middle, on top of the Church/Temple, we see the Devil tempting Christ to jump, since God’s angels will catch Christ if he falls. On the right, we see the last temptation, which is done on the mountain; this is when the Devil tells Christ to worship him in order to receive all the riches of the world. Here, Botticelli exposes the Devil by showing his true appearance. Christ seems to be telling the Devil to leave. Behind Christ, we see three angels, a table, and vase; this is believed to be a foreshadow of the Last Supper, when Christ will give us the Eucharist and His Blood.

Rather than making this fresco about just the Temptations of Christ, Botticelli incorporated another element into the foreground. In the foreground, we see a Jewish sacrifice occurring near the Temple. In the middle ground to the left, Christ seems to be discussing this event with four angels. The reason Botticelli placed this scene here is because it foreshadows the Passion of Christ: Christ will sacrifice his life for us.

As a final note, it is interesting how Botticelli has portrayed Christ. Even through Christ was suffering for forty days, he does not look that exhausted. He looks strong and unwilling to listen to the Devil. Christ is also lavishly represented with a red clothe and a blue clothe.

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