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Biblical Motif Artistic Sublimation

   Titian Vecellio (Tiziano Vecellio, 1482-1576) was the most outstanding artist of the "Venice School" in the heyday of the Italian Renaissance. His painting "Christ and the Pharisees" (also known as "Tax Money") was created in 1516-1518. According to records, the painting was inspired by Giotto's "Judas Kiss" mural, and the plot comes from the story of Jesus and the Pharisees in Chapter 22 of "New Testament Matthew".

  "Bible" motif

  From the title of the painting "Christ and the Pharisees", we can see that Titian portrayed Jesus as the image of Christ. The word "Christ" comes from the Hebrew Messiah, which is transliterated as "Messiah", meaning "anointed one" and "savior". The early Jewish Christians recognized Jesus as Christ [Jesus the (socalled) Christ], meaning "Jesus is (the one they were waiting for) the Savior". The Christ here has special significance in a specific historical environment.

  The background of the story of the painting is the rise of Christianity. Judaism was the main religious belief of the residents of Palestine at that time, but in the middle of the 2nd century BC, under external pressure, it split and formed some different sects. Both the Christian sect founded by Jesus and the Pharisee sect were sects that split from Judaism. They compete with each other for the masses. Therefore, Pharisees are very hostile to Christianity and its founder Jesus.

  According to the "Bible", once when Jesus was preaching, he used "the parable of the two sons", "the parable of the evil tenant" and "the parable of the wedding banquet", which the Pharisees thought were aimed at them , So they went out to discuss how to frame Jesus according to Jesus' words, and then they sent their disciples and Herodians to Jesus and asked him: Is it legal to give the tax money to the Roman emperor Caesar? (Matthew Chapter 21-22) On the surface, it is completely reasonable for the Pharisees, as people who listened to Jesus’ sermons, to “ask Jesus” for things they did not understand, but they called "Ask for advice" is actually a cross-examination, and the purpose of the question is to embarrass Jesus. If Jesus had said yes, they would have ridiculed him for betraying his religion by allowing his followers to "serve" Caesar. If Jesus answered no, it would mean he was against the government and they would use that as an excuse to accuse him. Jesus saw their intentions. He knew that as a Christian leader, he must not betray his religious beliefs. At the same time, he also knew that Christianity was just emerging at that time, and there were not many believers. A direct confrontation with the government would be tantamount to hitting a stone with a pebble. So instead of answering directly, he asked the Pharisees to bring out a coin. When the Pharisees took out a silver coin with the head of the Roman emperor Caesar on it, Jesus asked, "Whose does this image and this name belong to?" The Pharisee replied, "Caesar's." Jesus went on to say : "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:19-21). A major revolutionary topic, that is, the relationship between government and religion, clarifies the basic point of view of Christianity that advocates the separation of church and state. This picture reflects the scene where the Pharisees stopped Jesus from interrogating, showed the coins, and Jesus answered.

  Titian did not strictly follow the text of the "Bible" to put all the characters on the screen. Because in the "Bible" text, it is a group of people who questioned Jesus. In addition, when Jesus preached, there must have been disciples and believers around him, but Titian only chose Jesus and the Pharisees, obviously to make the contrast between the characters obvious, and to reflect the delicate emotions and artistic elements. Strengthen the theme.

  Of course, the Pharisees were not reconciled, and since then the struggle between sects has become more tragic. Later, Jesus was arrested by the Roman authorities and crucified on the cross. The Pharisees were one of the culprits involved in persecuting Jesus. After the Roman Emperor Constantine (approximately 274-337 AD) came to the throne, he began to realize that Christianity could strengthen the rule of the empire, and he converted to Christianity in 312 AD. The "Milan Edict" was issued the following year, stipulating the freedom of practicing various religions, and returning confiscated Christian meeting places and other property. This marks the beginning of Christianity and the empire combined. In 392 AD, Christianity was designated as the state religion of the Roman Empire, which greatly promoted the spread and development of Christianity. 100 years later, the city of Rome became the world-recognized spiritual capital of Christianity.

  Artistic aesthetics

  Titian's painting fully expresses the artistic style of the "Venice School" during the Italian Renaissance. The works of Titian played a leading role in the rise of Baroque art in the 17th century. As a representative of the Venetian school of painting, "Christ and the Pharisees" has the following characteristics:

  First, the painting is rich in color and rich in variety. Against the overall black background in the picture, Jesus' face is fair, and the Pharisee's face is dark gray; Jesus' hair and beard are thick black, and the Pharisee's beard is gray-yellow; The lace intertwined with beige, the Pharisee's top is light beige. In addition, the skin of Jesus is white and delicate, with a radiant complexion; the skin of the Pharisees is wrinkled, rough and dull. In particular, the smooth, white hands of Jesus contrast sharply with the rough, veined hands of the Pharisees. All these colors have a strong contrast between light and dark, various tones, and appropriate shades.

  Secondly, the painting is highly decorative. It can be seen from the picture that in order to highlight the theme, Titian beautifies and uglifies Jesus and the Pharisees respectively. Jesus had thick hair, the Pharisees had thin hair; Jesus had raised, well-defined, lined eyebrows, while the Pharisees had almost no eyebrows. Judging from the clothes, Jesus' clothes are gorgeous in color, good in texture, and fine in workmanship. Lace and curls in two colors harmoniously matched at the neck and neat cuffs give the garment a refined and luxurious look. The neck of the Pharisee's clothes has only rough hems, and he looks very vulgar with his sleeves rolled up casually.

  Third, the layout of the painting is reasonable and the space is properly handled. Judging from the overall layout of the picture, Jesus occupies most of the picture, while the Pharisees occupy only a small part. The image of Jesus is frontal and complete, while the image of the Pharisees is profiled and incomplete; this overall layout establishes the contrasting tone of the entire picture. In addition, the local spatial contrast of the picture is also very obvious. Carefully observe the picture, we can find that the picture is divided into upper and lower parts, and the two parts are divided into left and right parts respectively. In the upper part of the picture, Jesus' outstretched hair and beard form a straight line with the Pharisee's beard, separating the heads of the two from the picture below to form an independent space. The head is divided into two contrasting spaces on the left and right by the dark background. In the lower part of the picture, the bent arm of Jesus and the bent arm of the Pharisee form a diagonal line, and form a parallel line with the diagonal line formed by the two men's hair. The upper part of Jesus' arm and the upper part of the Pharisee's arm form a pair of parallel lines. The above two pairs of parallel lines form a parallelogram space, which is divided into two parts by the clothes on the inner arm of Jesus. space. From the perspective of spatial treatment, this layout increases the distance between Jesus and the Pharisees, highlighting the contrast between the two. This contrast symbolizes the huge difference in thought between the two.

  Fourth, the delicate and sharp contrast makes this Venetian painting contain some Baroque elements. This is the uniqueness of the work. Presenting this plot in a baroque style clearly fits well with the biblical theme. Titian used the image of the cunning and hypocrisy of the Pharisees to set off the righteousness of Jesus, so that the justice of Jesus and the evil of the Pharisees formed a sharp contrast. Jesus is firm, calm, natural, and generous. The glory of his face reflects the elegance of a saint, his eyes are full of the light of a wise man, and his brows are filled with sublime spiritual beauty; What stands out is his aquiline nose, which gives a deep impression of treachery, cunning and wit. The Pharisee looked menacing, aggressive, with angry eyes; Jesus was affable and upright.
  In terms of aesthetic effect, the rich colors and exquisite decoration in the picture highlight the realism of life and the concretization of character, showing the sense of reality and the vitality of the world. The contrasting spatial layout gives the viewer a strong visual impact and a huge spiritual shock. Thus, Titian portrayed the Pharisees as stubborn, which in turn brought out the patience and broad-mindedness of Jesus in preaching. 
  Cultural connotations
  The painting carries rich religious and cultural connotations. Its significance and value lie in the fact that it reflects two very important religious contents: one is an important thread running through the "Bible New Testament": the contradictory relationship between Pharisees and Christian sects. The second is the basic point of view of Christianity that advocates the separation of church and state contained in Jesus' answer, which is the foundation of the separation of church and state in today's West. It can be seen from the picture that Titian highlights the Pharisees' hatred of the early Christian sects, Jesus' ingenious response to their opponents, the meanness of the Pharisees and the greatness of Jesus.
  As the beneficiaries and defenders of the established order, the Pharisees hated someone who openly spread "heresy" Christianity, and claimed that Jesus was the enemy of all existing laws and orders. Soon, various factions of enemies of Jesus formed an alliance, and they joined forces to put Jesus to death. Against this background, in his preaching, Jesus, on the one hand, tried to strengthen people's confidence in Christianity, and on the other hand, condemned other sects by delivering justice. For the Pharisees, on the one hand, Jesus reminded the disciples to abide by the teachings of the Pharisees from the Bible, but also reminded the disciples not to imitate their behavior. In the eyes of believers, the image of Jesus is the image of the savior. He is both human and divine, and this duality of God and man has been fully reflected in the painting. Jesus may also experience a momentary struggle between humanity and divinity in the event of deliberate provocation by the Pharisees. Should we fight back when the other party makes things difficult, or should we persuade them with good words? Facing the Pharisees with malicious intentions, Jesus as a "saint" showed great patience. There was no trace of hostility in his eyes, nor did he get angry about it and return the color, but resolved the conflict with wisdom. His answer is even more shining with the light of wisdom, which is also the embodiment of "divinity".
  Jesus' answer "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" is rich in connotation and far-reaching, and it clarifies the basic point of view of Christianity in advocating the separation of church and state. The origin of the separation of church and state in the West can be traced back to this answer of Jesus. Martin Luther was outraged by the fact that church and state affairs were not separated from one another in the sixteenth century. He criticized the Pope's role in secular government. Luther quoted this statement from Jesus in his discussion of the two realms (spiritual and temporal). American pioneers, including Jefferson, wanted citizens to have religious liberty, not secession. Obviously, the president of the United States and government officials are well aware of Jesus' intention to distinguish between Caesar and God, which extends the idea that the government and the church are two different entities. These two entities are not contradictory, on the contrary, they play a complementary role in modern civilized society.
  "Christ and the Pharisees" can be regarded as a masterpiece of art with major religious themes. From the perspective of religious themes, the black background symbolizes that Christianity needs to overcome many obstacles and illuminate the dark corners of the world with the light of Christ. Jesus' idea of ​​separation of church and state laid the foundation of the Western political system and is of great significance. From the perspective of humanism, Titian regarded Jesus as the embodiment of justice and regarded him as a cultural symbol.


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