Last year at Easter time I wrote discussing the work of Piero della Francesco and his magnificent fresco the Resurrection of Christ painted in 1450 for the town hall of the small Italian village of Borgo San Sapolcro. I noted at the time the strange fact that few other artists had painted similar depictions. In rereading it, I pondered whether I was missing out on a lot of them simply because I was not straying far from the beaten path. I was searching the work of only the very limited number of "famous" painters and their efforts in exploring the life of Christ through art. So I dug deeper. What I found was both intriguing and disappointing. I found a very rich treasure trove of beautiful depictions of nearly every aspect of the life of Christ by relatively unknown artists whose work I'd never noticed before. It would seem the subject brought out the very best in the work of these lesser-known painters. But sadly, what I also found was that my initial contention continued to dominate. There are very simply a minuscule number of paintings depicting Christ rising from the tomb.
In fact, in all my searches, I could find only one other, a central panel of a polyptych altarpiece by Gaudenzio Ferrari painted during the years 1530-46. Coming some 60 to 75 years after the della Francesco effort, the pose and general appearance of the panel bears the unmistakable, strong influence of the earlier painting. Entitled Christ Rising from the Tomb, in general, it's really quite good. It is somewhat manneristic. A single cloak swirls weightlessly up, over, and around the otherwise nude figure as he steps up dramatically from the horizontal (very non-Biblical) top opening of a tomb, triumphant, yet simply reeking of Raphael in his depiction of Christ ascending into heaven. And while it's technically quite accomplished (as one would expect from a Renaissance/Mannerist painter), it is also quite derivative.
And, after all that digging, I am still at a loss to explain this seeming lack of interest on the part of artists and/or their benefactors (including most curiously, the church) in the climactic triumph of Jesus' life. The entire story of Christ's final week in Jerusalem is amply told and retold by both major and minor artists alike; from the triumphal entry, to his confrontation with Mary Magdalene in the garden. There are crucifixions galore. There are many depositions from the cross; there are fewer (but still a significant number of) entombments; and there are awe-inspiring ascensions by the dozen. But depictions of the (potentially) no-less-dramatic moment when Christ arises from the dead are incredibly scarce. Yet it should be a rich source of inspiration for artists. What can I say? Maybe I'll just have to rise to the occasion myself.