Holy Week in Art. Easter Explained in Paintings

Isla Phillips-Ewen 11 April 2020 min Read

To celebrate the Christian festival of Easter, here is the story of Holy Week and Easter explained in paintings.

Palm Sunday

File:Palm Sunday (Stained glass, Chester Cathedral).JPG
Stained glass window in Chester Cathedral cloister. The stained glass in the Cathedral dates mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our ‘Easter Explained in Paintings’ manual starts with the Palm Sunday. The sixth Sunday in Lent marks the beginning of the Holy Week. It is the day that Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, on a donkey, while cheering crowds wave palm leaves.

Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday

Easter Explained in Paintings
James Tissot, The Ointment of the Magdalene, c. 1900, Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA.

Between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday a variety of events are remembered. For example the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, Jesus’ predictions of his own death, and the details of Judas’ betrayal (hence “spy” Wednesday).

Maundy Thursday

Leonardo Da Vinci, The Last Supper, tempera and gesso, c.1490s, Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.

Also known as Holy Thursday, this is the day where Christians commemorate the Last Supper that Christ shared with his disciples. The word maundy comes from the command (mandate) given by Christ at the Last Supper, that we should love one another.

Read more about Leonardo da Vinci here and about his Last Supper here!

Pedilavium Collage by Marija Stojic | Saatchi Art
Marija Stojic, Pedilavium, collage: papery, acrylic, marker, watercolor on paper, 2019.

Before supper Jesus famously washes the feet of his followers (known as the Pedilavium), and during supper he breaks bread and shares wine.

File:Giorgio Vasari - The Garden of Gethsemane - Google Art Project.jpg; Easter Explained in Paintings
Giorgio Vasari, The Garden of Gethsemane, oil on panel, c.1570, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan.

Afterwards Jesus goes to spend the night praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He prays in distress and fear of the events to come. The disciples, who were meant to be waiting for him, fall asleep and leave their friend to suffer alone.

The Taking of Christ-Caravaggio (c.1602).jpg
Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, oil on canvas, c.1602, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

Next, armed men arrive in the garden to arrest Jesus. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.

Read more about Caravaggio in one of these articles!

Good Friday

Good Friday commemorates “the Passion”: the execution of Jesus by crucifixion. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor tries Jesus on the charge of treason.

Easter Explained in Paintings
Douglas Blanchard, Jesus before the priests, oil painting from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, 2020.

Jesus is whipped and then given a crown of thorns, which was a way of mocking him for the claim to be the ‘King of the Jews.’

15 Years Later, a Christian Bubble Still Protects 'Passion of the ...
Still from The Passion of Christ, 2004, co-written and directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezal as Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus then carries his cross to Calvary (or Golgotha), where he is then nailed to it beside two other criminals.

Read about more crucifixions in art here.

Christ of St John of the Cross
Salvador Dalí, Christ of St John on the Cross, 1951, oil on canvas, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, UK.

After some hours soldiers check that Jesus is dead by stabbing him in the side. His body is then taken down and buried.

Read more about Dalí in one of these articles.

Easter Explained in Paintings
Fresco by Fra Angelico, Dominican monastery at San Marco, Florence, showing the lance piercing the side of Jesus on the cross (c. 1440).

Good Friday is a day of mourning. Christians think about Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and what this means for their faith.

Read more about Fra Angelico here.

Black Saturday

Also known as Holy Saturday, the Great Sabbath and Easter Eve, this is technically the last day of Holy Week.

File:Cristo yacente Gregorio Fernandez.jpg
 Gregorio Fernández, Statue of Jesus lying in the tomb, Monastery of San Joaquín y Santa Ana, Valladolid, Spain.

On this day Jesus’ body is in the tomb and his soul visits hell – the event known as the “harrowing of hell”. This is the time period between crucifixion and resurrection where Jesus descends to hell.

Easter Explained in Paintings
A medieval Harrowing of Hell, engraving by Michael Burghers (1647/8–1727) published in “Ancient Mysteries Described”, 1823.

Read about medieval art in one of these articles.

Easter Day

This is one of the most important events in Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many depictions of that crucial moment in art, it was hard to choose one particular painting for our ‘Easter Explained in Paintings’ manual!

File:Rembrandt van Rijn - Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb - Google Art Project.jpg
Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb, 1638, oil on panel, Royal Collection, Britain.

In the morning the women go to the tomb of Jesus to prepare the body but find it empty. Angels tell them that Jesus has risen.

Read more about Rembrandt in one of these articles.

Easter Explained in Paintings
Raphael, Resurrection of Christ, c.1499-1502, oil painting on wood, São Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil.

The whole story of Easter, known as the Passion, is told in the four gospels of the bible (Mark 14-15, Matthew 26-27, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19). It’s also detailed by the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Roman historian Tacitus.

Read more about Raphael here.

Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro.
Designed by Paul Landowski and built by engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, Christ the Redeemer, 1931, Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Now, knowing what every single day of the Holy Week means to Christians in our ‘Easter Explained in Paintings’ manual, you can celebrate Easter this way if you want or just enjoy your holidays!


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