Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Illustrations of the biblical Easter story have a very long tradition in the history of art. How was this topic pictured in the Medieval and modern times, in old and new art? Here are two examples:
Starting with new art, Bernhard Adams iPad painting “Ölberg I” surprisingly consists of many different layers of colour, which you can see in the video below. This conveys you the impression that the stars are located in three-dimensional a space and not on a flat surface.
The stars, which are central in Adams work, are coloured in gold for the first time. Stars can symbolise purity and good luck. In Christian Western art, the colour gold represents the light of God.
Bernhard Adams, Making of Ölberg I, 2020
Although there are so many stars, the colour purple, which is a blend of so many different colours, seems quite dominant. What does this mean in general and in art history?
Purple is often associated with luxury, power, wisdom, creativity, and magic. In the Bible, purple means the celestial love of God and is associated with the rich, with royalty, and with authority. The Roman soldiers adorned Jesus Christ as the King of the Jews with a purple robe.
Blue for the sky was the colour of deity; red was the colour of humankind. Being blended to purple represented the God-Man who, by his death, became the gateway, the access to God.
Master of the St. Lamprecht votive tablet, workshop, around 1435 St. Lambrecht / Obersteiermark
As the title of the painting is “Ölberg I”, a connotation with the Bible may seem obvious. The night before Good Friday, after the Last Supper, Jesus went with the eleven disciples to Gethsemane, a garden at Mount of Olives, to pray.
Images of “Christ at Mount of Olives” have a very long tradition. In the votive tablet above, which was created around the year 1435 by an Austrian painter of the Gothic period, whose name is not known with certainty, you see a figurative representation of Christ and some of his eleven disciples at the Mount of Olives. The sky in the background is painted in red-purple, and the gold is used for halos surrounding the heads.
Perhaps the sky above the Mount of Olives in the night before Good Friday looked like the Mediterranean night not the photo below.
As purple is the balancing colour between red and blue, colour psychology says that purple might have a calming effect on the mind and nerves, and it can be uplifting.
The two aspects - contemplating the connection between humankind and God, and enjoying the well-being effect, especially in the present time - not only make Adams abstract work very interesting and worthwhile, but they also put it in a historical context and at the same time show the artist’s use of very modern technologies and his unique style of interpretation. He depicts the stars as seen by humanity through the ages. His paintings do not only show stars, but he paints everything we see when looking at the sky above.
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Ruth Polleit Riechert
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