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The Intercession of Jesus to God the Father

The Intercession of Christ to God the Father

Ambrosius Holbein (ca. 1494 -1519). Kunstmuseum Basel – Basel. Ca. 1514-1515.

Ambrosius Holbein was the son of Hans Holbein the elder and the brother of Hans Holbein the Younger. He was born in Augsburg around 1494 and worked soon in his father’s workshop of painting. He painted alone from around 1514 so that the ‘Intercession of Christ to God the Father’ might have bene one of his first truly own pictures. He moved to Basel in 1515, together with his younger brother. From after 1518 or 1519 no pictures have remained of him so that one might assume that he died around that time or stopped painting altogether.

Ambrosius Holbein’s ‘Intercession of Christ to God the Father’ is a simple devotional picture. Holbein was a gifted artist, but he did not have the genius of his younger brother. Thus we see a painting with an easy composition. Holbein placed Jesus in the lower right corner and god the Father opposite, along the right diagonal of the frame, in the upper left corner. Christ sits on a rainbow, with one foot on a glass ball that could represent the fragile earth. It was known since a long time that the earth was round. Pythagoras and Aristotle suspected already that the earth was a sphere. But it was only the same year that Ambrosius Holbein painted his’ Intercession of Christ to God the Father’ that Niklaus Copernicus published a small monogram in which the argued that the earth actually moved around the sun. The little book was only spread among a few friends and became widely known only many years later.

Jesus is shown as a man of sorrows, naked but for a flimsy, transparent cloth, holding his hands in prayer to God. Jesus is painted against the dark sky that came upon Jerusalem at the moment of his death. Jesus is a strong, well-muscled man but he keeps his head inclined in suffering and thus also pleads to the Father. Golden rays emanate from his face.

God the Father blesses Christ. He holds the cross of Jesus’s Crucifixion and he is surrounded by the vague assembly of heavenly souls. The souls form a kind of halo around God, but one might also see the heads in this light as skulls. Holbein painted God the Father as a benevolent and wise man with soft eyes and a long beard. His cloak is in warm, red colours. The viewer senses that god is well willing to acknowledge the pleading hands and pitiful head of his Son. Between the two is the pigeon, the symbol of the holy Spirit, so that the painting also represents the Trinity. According to Christian theology, Father, Son and Spirit are but one aspect of the same God but Ambrosius Holbein represented them in the easier, naďve and human understanding of the relations.

Between the two main scenes, Ambrosius Holbein painted about twenty-four putti, little angels, which appear from out of the clouds and which carry the instruments of Jesus’s Passion. We recognise in the left lower corner the column against which Christ was tortured and the lance that struck his side while on the cross. Other instruments shown here are the whips with which Jesus was flagellated, the wooden hammer for the cross and the nails, the thorn-bushes from which his crown of thorns were made, as well as the cross itself. In the upper part we find the pincers and hammer of iron used to make the cross. Here also are the rods or long wooden branches that drove down Jesus’s crown on thorns into the flesh of his head.

There is a powerful tradition in all churches of Western Europe, but mostly in Germany and France, to show the instruments of the Passion of Jesus. Often we find them imitated in real objects, disposed against a wall of the churches or hung on a wooden beam, adorned with the emblem of the Crucifixion. This wooden beam then crosses the church in its width and hangs before the main altar. Ambrosius Holbein’s painting has not much artistic value, but it is a fine example of this tradition of devotion to the Passion of Jesus.

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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