Monday, 27 February 2017

Androgynous Christ

Grossetti, from France, sells on 9 March 2017 a "Flemish School, 16th century" Androgynous Christ with the apostles, a large canvas (121 by 164 cm) estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 Euro. (Interenchères is for some reason a difficult site to get good images from, hence the upper image which is more detailed but loses some parts of the image, and the bottom one which is the full image but in low resolution; and that's also why both have unrelated icons in the corners!)

The subject of the androgynous Christ is not unknown but very rare nevertheless, which makes this otherwise not very remarkable painting by a second rate artist suddenly interesting. I know of only one other example, although more of these must exist. It symbolises Christ as the great unificator, the "Son" of God who came for all mankind, not just for the men, and thus needed to represent all humans. Not surprisingly, it seems to have been especially popular with some orders of nuns and with the beguines, and not so much with male clergy for whom a wholy male Jesus was easier to stomach / support / explain to the believers. A link with the mysticists, often women who got visions of God and felt a passionate love for Christ, seems obvious as well. The mysticists were mainly active in the 12th and 13th century, but their influence continued to be strong until certainly the Reformation and Contrareformation of the late 16th century.

The other image of the androgynous Christ, a much more explicit one, can be found in the Notre Dame de la Rose hospital, a mid-13th century creation in Lessines, in Southwestern Belgium, with Augustinian nuns. The painting is late 16th century.

I couldn't immediately find any paintings pointing to this composition or style, it seems to be a one off, perhaps painted by a member of the religious community, and thus perhaps a woman (many woman painters remained anonymous, and many painting clergy only orked for their own order as well, making their work scarce and often a bit naive).

The estimate of the work seems to be only based on the subject, as artistically it is worth probably 1,500 Euro (mainly because it is rather big). What it is worth as a scarce relic of a relatively obscure but eye-catching religious belief is anyone's guess of course.

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