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A divine connection

May 18, 2008|Suzanne Muchnic

Imagine Christ not as a picture of goodness in human form, but as a batch of disembodied wounds. No? Well, that's what 16th century Flemish illuminator Simon Bening did in a richly illustrated prayer book commissioned by Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. "The Worship of the Five Wounds" depicts a crowd enthralled by a vision of Christ's punctured hands, feet and heart, beamed up to the heavens in a circle of light.

"It's a striking image, a distillation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross," says Kristen Collins, a manuscripts curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum. And it sparked "Imagining Christ," a small, idea-packed exhibition of 22 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and related objects at the Getty Center through July 27.

She has organized a three-part show intended to give visitors a sense of how Christ's image evolved -- from an imperial judge at the end of time to a suffering human who felt the pain of his flock -- and to celebrate the artists' imaginations.

The first section, "Invoking Christ in Word and Ritual," offers an illumination of a majestic Christ surrounded by the four beasts of the Apocalypse and a gilded metal sculpture that once reflected candlelight on an altar. Next comes "Demonstrating Christ's Divinity," including an image of an airborne arbiter, seated on a globe, who separates the saved from the damned. Among manuscripts in the third segment, "Experiencing Christ's Humanity," is a rare portrayal of Christ as a 12-year-old, walking to Jerusalem with his parents.

A new computer kiosk with a touch screen and zoom-in capabilities offers 11 additional images from the Brandenburg prayer book. "Through technology we are able to show more of our collection and give viewers more information about how one would have experienced these books," Collins says. "These mini-paintings are works of art, but they are also devotional tools."

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-- Suzanne Muchnic

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