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The Connection Between Heaven and Earth, Human and Divine is Explored in New Getty Exhibition

Between Heaven and Earth: Images of Christ and the Virgin
At the Getty, March 18 through June 29, 2003

March 18, 2003

Los Angeles—One of the great mysteries of Christianity—the relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ and the Virgin—will be explored in the new exhibition Between Heaven and Earth: Images of Christ and the Virgin, at the Getty from March 18 through June 29, 2003. Works from masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt are among this presentation of drawings, prints, illustrated books, and meditation manuals that reveal how Renaissance and Baroque artists represented the central figures of Christian faith. The connection between the earthly body and divine soul is pointedly raised in illustrations of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection, and the final days of the Virgin's life.

The exhibition opens with works portraying the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. In the Getty's recently acquired print The Transfiguration (about 1795), Italian printmaker Raphael Morghen represented Christ as a ghostly outline. The radiating brilliant white light heightens the dramatic effect of his transformation. A completely different experience is presented by French painter and draftsman Carle Vanloo, whose The Agony in the Garden (about 1760) shows Jesus fainting at the thought of his impending death with two angels supporting his heavy, collapsing body.

"Unlike the heavenly being of The Transfiguration, the Jesus of The Agony in the Garden experiences profound human emotions," said Stephanie Schrader, co-curator of the exhibition and assistant curator, department of drawings, J. Paul Getty Museum. "Contemplating his preordained death, Christ prays for deliverance. As he submits to God's will, his prayers become more desperate. Artists conveyed this anguish by employing various poses and gestures—from fainting to pleading."

The Crucifixion and the Entombment of Christ are illustrated in works by German artist Hans von Aachen, Italian artist Luca Penni, and others. The charged attitudes of mourners in many of these scenes reflect Christ's beaten humanity as clearly as the corpse itself.

The works on view depicting the Resurrection and the Ascension demonstrate how artists dramatized Christ’s final moments on earth. "Together, depictions of the Resurrection and the Ascension evidence Christ's triumph over death and the divine nature of his human body," said Louis Marchesano, co-curator of the exhibition and collections curator, Getty Research Institute. "In an engraving made by Schelte Adams Bolswert after an altarpiece by Peter Paul Rubens, Christ steps from a rocky cavern holding the banner of the Resurrection and the palm leaf that signifies his victory over death. Christ's wounded body radiates a halo of divine light and elicits a variety of responses from the soldiers, who cower, flee, or gaze with rapt attention."

Closing the exhibition are the Death and the Assumption of the Virgin. The remarkable Death of the Virgin (1639) by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, on loan from the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCLA Hammer Museum, emphasizes Mary's humanity by portraying realistic details such as a doctor taking her pulse, and an elderly man adjusting her pillow. The Getty's Assumption of the Virgin (about 1624) by Peter Paul Rubens employs tightly controlled lines and carefully applied wash to convey a vivid sense of an event of heavenly magnitude. By including an image of Christ in this work, Rubens reinforces the parallel between the Virgin and Christ.

Between Heaven and Earth illustrates how artists interpreted religious experiences for the masses, a tradition that continues today and is reflected in other works at the Getty, including Bill Viola's video installation Emergence (2002). Inspired by Renaissance devotional paintings, Viola references Christ's resurrection, and shows how modern artists have continued to explore this timeless subject. Newly commissioned by the Getty, Emergence is featured in the exhibition Bill Viola: The Passions, at the Getty through April 27, 2003.


Point-of-View Talk
Aaron Smith, a figurative painter whose work is strongly influenced by Italian Baroque paintings, discusses the exhibition Between Heaven and Earth: Images of Christ and the Virgin. Friday, May 2, 6:00 & 7:30 p.m. Sign up at the Information Desk in the Museum Entrance Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Note to Editors:  Images available upon request.

For more information, the public can call 310-440-7300 or visit

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