The Harrowing of Hell, a recurring passion

The Harrowing of Hell
2018
Sanguine pencil, white charcoal, toned paper
24 by 18 inches

The theme of the great Harrowing of Hell, that period in time in which the Church seems to hesitate a bit, unsure of what really happened, that time after Christ sheds the mortal coil and isn’t seen for a few  days. Where he is said to have descended into the Underworld as a triumphant New Adam and liberates lost and languishing souls- that, that moment , fascinates me.

It has for quite some time, as a youth I placed ink to paper in an attempt to imagine such a  mythic moment ( the use of pomegranates as a decorative motif, seemed at the time,  a brilliant allegory and  subtle reference to Eurydice)

Youthful stab at a subject too grand…(1980-81?)

As the first(and latest) image attests, the theme still beguiles. Having only recently listened to George Saunder’s astonishing Lincoln in the Bardo (thank you Audible, now I must actually read it). I have been taken with the in-between time of death, redemption and the ambiguous souls left floundering;  the Bardo as Saunders asserts. Death isn’t always with me in a dismal way, but it is endlessly fascinating. I don’t actually want to know for sure what the path ahead holds for me, but I am darn curious.

The first introduction to the theme of the Harrowing was Albrecht Dürer’s spectacular depiction of it (Dürer is a heartthrob figure for me in so many ways).

Albrecht Dürer
Descent into Limbo

One can easily see Dürer’s influence on my work, going back to my teens. Clearly I stole from the Master in this youthful depiction of the Fallen Adam.

Unfinished drawing of Adam and fallen Bishop of Rome.

What I had failed to comprehend was what was meant by Hell. In time I came to realize not so much the eternal fires of a wrathful God, but a waiting station, the  vague Limbo of my youthful Catholicism.

The theme has been explored countless times; the following, are a few favorites.

The ubiquitous follower of good old Bosch.
A lovely example from 1504.
14th century
Petites Heures de Jean de Berry
A gorgeous depiction of the Harrowung of Hell, only vaguely attributed as “Renaissance”. Lovely nonetheless.

My own inspiration was more random, less planned; in my last studio move, an accidental composition made itself available to me. I suspect I will returning to theme again. Perhaps next time Christ will be more triumphant, more muscular in spirit, less hesitant. Although, truth be told, hesitancy seems a reasonable stance. 

The Harrowing of Hell
2018
Sanguine pencil, white charcoal, toned paper
24 by 18 inches

 

Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

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