By Anne Leader
Today (8 May 2016) is the feast day of the Ascension, marking the last appearance of Jesus on earth after his Resurrection at Easter forty days earlier and prior to his entry into Heaven. The dramatic event, central to the Christian message, is recounted in full only by Luke in the last chapter of his gospel and the first chapter of Acts. We are told that Jesus blessed his disciples and was carried up on clouds into the sky, as were Enoch, Elijah, and Moses before him.
Though the culminating event of Christ’s earthly mission, the Ascension was rather slow to appear in the visual arts and is a much rarer subject than the Resurrection, which celebrates Jesus’ triumph over death. The earliest versions derived from pagan apotheosis scenes, whereby Roman emperors were taken up to join the gods on Olympus. In Italian art, Ascension scenes frequently complete narrative cycles showing the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and in the later Renaissance and Baroque periods, it became a popular subject for vault frescoes, allowing artists to use their skills of illusion and perspective to suggest Christ’s ascent taking place directly above viewers’ heads.
Garofalo, Ascension of Christ, 1510-20, oil on panel, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome
Vincenzo Campi, The Ascension of Christ, fresco, 1588, San Paolo Converso, Milan
Giovanni Lanfranco, Ascension, 1637-9, fresco, Certosa di San Martino, Naples
Giotto, Ascension, 1304-6, fresco, Cappella Scrovegni, Padua
Mariotto di Nardo, Scenes from the Life of Christ: Ascension, c. 1395, tempera on poplar panel, Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon
Lorenzo Monaco, Antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 3, folio 59), c. 1410, tempera and gold on parchment, mounted on panel, Bernard H. Breslauer, New York
Melozzo da Forli, Triumphant Christ, 1481-83, fresco transferred to canvas, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome
Andrea Mantegna, The Ascension of Christ, 1460-64, tempera on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Andrea della Robbia, Ascension, c. 1490, glazed terracotta, Chiesa Maggiore, La Verna
Tintoretto, The Ascension, 1579-81, oil on canvas, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice