“Christ Blessing”, Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500, Kimbell Art Museum, Forth Worth, Texas.
The Risen Christ raises his right hand in blessing. Behind him the sun has not yet risen. To the right, there are some figures visible in the distance. These are surely the women making their way to the tomb very early on the first day of the week. By the time the sun has risen they will have found the tomb empty. On the left, the bare tree with its lone bird is familiar from other paintings by Bellini. The tree represents the old order which is passing away. The church tower on right is a symbol of faith in the Risen Christ, the Eucharist, and, therefore of Christ’s sacrifice and presence with us. On the left just below his hand raised in blessing a shepherd watches his flock reminding us that Christ is the Good Shepherd. With his left hand Christ holds a staff. This is the staff on which the banner of the resurrection is unfurled. You can see the wound made by the nail in Christ’s raised hand and that made by the spear in his side. The The hand raised in blessing casts a shadow on Christ’s torso, giving visual testimony to the reality of his bodily resurrection. But what is extraordinary about this painting is the way the landscape and the figure of Christ co-exist in a delicate and beautiful harmony. Often resurrection scenes seem a bit awkward, but here, no element seems forced or contrived. Figure and landscape blend like a seamless garment. This is true to of the figure of Christ, who is fully human and fully divine. A contemporary poet commenting about a figure of Christ by different artist, wrote that had it been painted by Bellini, it would’ve been “much more human and more divine”. Bellini sets before us a figure of the Risen Christ in which humanity, divinity and the whole creation co-exist beautifully. Bellini evokes the truth of the incarnation and the resurrection, the beauty of the Risen Christ’s gentle presence in our world, and reminds us, that the Risen Christ will always with us and his blessing will always be upon us.
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