I particularly enjoyed the medieval discussion about whether or not it was appropriate to paint images for worship vs. using the images to raise people's thoughts toward heaven. It is of many people's opinion that these medieval paintings are poorly executed - lacking in perspective, proportion, etc. however, I think one should look at the purpose of such works.
The story of the two thieves at Christ's crucifixion is as follows: Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left. According to Luke:
39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied to him, "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise."
According to tradition, the Good Thief was crucified to Jesus' right hand and the other thief was crucified to his left. For this reason, depictions of the crucifixion often show Jesus' head inclined to his right, showing his acceptance of the Good Thief. The thief's conversion is sometimes given as an example of the necessary steps one must take to arrive at salvation through Christ: awareness of personal sin, repentance of sin, acceptance of Christ and salvation's promise of eternal life. Also noteworthy about the painting is how the Bad Thief is portrayed as having his back toward Christ and his face is in shadows. These paintings had a story to tell so the background was not as important as the cast of characters and their countenance, which was executed relatively well. These paintings were very readable at a glance.
|Unknown British artist, The Crucifixion (detail), about 1395. Tempera and oil with gilded tin relief on oak panel. Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum|