Friday, October 26, 2018

Artistic Slight of Hand

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The next time you’re sitting in a church pew contemplating the ear lobes of the person in front of you, consider instead the crucifix – especially its hands.

When creating sacred artwork on the theme of the crucifixion, I have generally settled on a format reminiscent of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. It’s not your typical crucifix.

Most of us are used to seeing nails driven squarely into the palms of Christ’s hands, the fingers of which curl inward in response to pain. Grünewald, however, took a path that is more visually painful.

Holy Scripture does indeed say that nails were driven into His hands and feet, but “hand” was understood to include everything not covered by a sleeve. The wrist, therefore, was part of the hand. It’s been anatomically proven that a nail through the palm simply will not hold the weight of a body. On the other hand, a nail driven into the wrist will encounter  a tough mass of tendons, cartilage, and bone. Hence, I usually work in that visual direction.

Recently, however, I ignored the anatomical angle in preference of symbolism. Two sculptural projects used a variation of the more traditional approach of placing nails in the palms of Jesus. The difference is that the index and middle fingers of Christ are extended. It is only a slight difference, but the symbolism is massive. Christ, even as He dies for His wayward sheep – indeed, precisely BECAUSE He dies for His wayward sheep – blesses us with His greatest blessing.

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