Sunday, February 8, 2015

Transfiguration...or is it?

Look. Up in the sky. It's Jesus. And he's wearing a white tunic. 
One of these is the Ascension; the other is the Transfiguration. Which one is which?

There are similarities in the scriptural accounts of these incidents. Both take place on a mountaintop. Both take place within the sight of people. Both have two figures that unexpectedly appear. So when artists set out to paint these stories, the results may look very similar. How can you know which picture shows which story? 

The most obvious distinguishing mark is probably found on Jesus' hands. The Ascension happens after Jesus' crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, so ascending Jesus will have nail marks in his hands and feet that transfiguring Jesus will not have.  

You can also survey the crowd. Who witnessed the Transfiguration? Jesus, disciples, Moses and Elijah. Who was at the Ascension? The disciples (and two angels, if you read the account in Acts 1 rather than the accounts from the Gospels). Which do you see in which picture?

Though the compositions seem remarkably similar, the details will tell you which story is being told.

The Transfiguration is celebrated Sunday, February 15. Ascension Sunday will be May 17, 2015.

Left: Raphael. Transfiguration of Jesus, Vatican Museums, 1516-1520.
Right: John S. Copley. Ascension, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1775.

This week's Art&Faith Matters Facebook post looks at Transfiguration B's reading from 2 Kings 2:1-14. Two comparative paintings are here and here.
For additional thoughts on Transfiguration, click here and here.

No comments:

Post a Comment