The Art of Resurrection

Today my thoughts were directed to the phenomenon of Greek “abaton”:

“Also called a mundus or earth-womb, the abaton was a real pit, standard equipment in a pagan temple. Those who entered it to ‘incubate,’ or to sleep overnight in magical imitation of the incubatory sleep in the womb, were thought to be visited by an ‘incubus’ or spirit who brought prophetic dreams. Novice priests went down into the pit for longer periods of incubation, pantomiming death, burial, and rebirth from the womb of Mother Earth. …

The Old Testament Joseph earned his oneiromantic talent by incubation in a Pit. The ‘brothers’ who put him there seem to have been fellow priests. He could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams only after he had submitted to the ritual. Assyrian priests derived similar powers from a sojourn in the Pit. They then assumed the priestly coat of many colors, signifying communion with the Goddess under her oneiromantic name of Nanshe, ‘Interpreter of Dreams.'”

Barbara G. Walker, “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets”

Incubation in the pit may be equaled to a “lesser death” while today we are celebrating the magic descent and rebirth through overcoming of even greater forces of darkness. I have been looking closely at painting of the Resurrection this morning and I came across this website with various depictions of the theme:

My attention was caught by a few wondrous paintings:

1.Nikolay Gay, “Harbingers of the Resurrection”


Sometimes, when the whole world is still in darkness but if we are attentive we notice a brightly shining harbinger of hope announcing the good news. In his magnificent poem “Patmos,” Friedrich Hölderlin (frequently quoted by C.G. Jung) wrote: “The god Is near, and hard to grasp. / But where there is danger, /A rescuing element grows as well.”

2. Peter Paul Rubens, “Christ Risen”


What I adore about this is the fleshiness of the body of Christ. There are no traces of death, no emaciation or death pallor. He is strong, powerful but also very human.

3. Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Resurrection”


I find this painting breathtaking. Unlike Rubens, he focuses on the divinity of Christ and the sheer numinosity of the moment. There is an enormous out of this world quality about the scene. Rembrandt was a master painter of supernatural light.

4. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Resurrection”


You can barely see Christ here hovering over the figure of the angel. Where do I start? Paintings bathed in gold have always been my favorite. I am fascinated also by the tumult among the people faced with this miracle.

5. William Blake, “Angels Rolling away the Stone from the Sepulchre”


This is another depiction of “the moment before.” I am especially enchanted by the composition.

6. Michel Ciry, “The Risen Christ”


This very modern image struck me particularly. On the one hand, I thought that it shows the inherent divinity in every human being. On the other hand, I thought of the suffering of the Holocaust victim although I am not sure whether the artist intended for such a reception.

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15 Responses to The Art of Resurrection

  1. thank you for this post. I especially enjoyed your art interpretation. It was akin to a top notch museum tour! I enjoy seeing the world through your eyes.



  2. Such an interesting and lovely resurrection post. I never knew of the pit in the earth, very cool indeed/


  3. emilie123 says:

    Exquisite Post!
    Most interesting…


  4. Marie Taylor says:

    wonderful pictures to accompany your comments


  5. Really enjoyed this being tied in to art history. And the information about the ‘abaton’ (which I’m not familiar with). Do you think we have lost the actual meaning concerning ‘His’ resurrection/rising from the abaton?


    • Dear Steven, I certainly think that Christ’s descent is one of many that happened before him. At this point I’m still far from understanding this fully, I just have some intuitions.


  6. willowmarie says:

    William Blake…always moves me. Appreciated seeing this in your collection.


  7. Karin Van den Bergh says:

    Beautiful post and divine art (then again the Flemish Masters’blood runs through my veins 😉 ) Interesting to know about the abaton pit. Your posts are always infused with so much wisdom and authenticity. Thank you, Monika


    • Dear Karin, good to hear from you after a long break. The abaton pit came to me as an idea on that day and I was myself surprised by it. Thank you very much for your compliments.


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