Most of Caravaggio's religious subjects emphasize sadness, suffering and death. In 1609 he dealt with the triumph of life and in doing so created the most visionary picture of his career.

Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was the patron of Giovanni Battista de' Lazzari, to whom Caravaggio was contracted to paint an altarpiece in the church of the Padri Crociferi. The Gospel of St John tells how Lazarus fell sick, died, was buried and then miraculously raised from the dead by Christ.

Once again, the scene is set against blank walls that overwhelm the actors, who once more are laid out like figures on a frieze. Some of them, says Susinno, were modelled on members of the community, but at this stage Caravaggio did not have time to base himself wholly on models and relied on his memory - the whole design is based on an engraving after Giulio Romano and his Jesus is a reversed image of the Christ who called Matthew to join him.

There is a remarkable contrast between the flexible bodies of the grieving sisters and the near-rigid corpse of their brother. In the gospel Martha reminds Jesus that, as her brother had been dead four days, he would stink, but here nobody detracts from the dignity of the moment by holding his nose. Jesus is the resurrection and the life and in the darkness through him the truth is revealed.

___Text and image courtesy "The Web Gallery Of Art"




The Raising of Lazarus  1608-09
Oil on canvas, 380 x 275 cm
Museo Nazionale, Messina

While at Saint-Remy, Van Gogh created a number of oil copies of black-and-white prints he had by some of his favorite artists, including Rembrandt, Millet, and Delacroix. His choice of which paintings to copy and the manner in which he chose to do so bespeak his fear of and obsession with death; an example of this is Van Gogh's copy of The Raising of Lazarus by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Van Gogh's choice to depict Lazarus has concrete and obvious ties to the specter of death in his life. Lazarus is a biblical character who was resurrected by Christ four days after his death. The subject's tie to death is inherent, and there is also here an undercurrent of the idea of life after death. This is similar in theme to Van Gogh's speculations that in death he would be among the stars, which implies something of a continued existence akin to that of Lazarus, regardless of its level and means.

It is also important to note how Van Gogh has altered the composition of the painting in his copy. He has changed the focus completely, choosing to address Lazarus from a much more concentrated perspective. For Rembrandt, Lazarus himself was only a small part of the composition, and he shared his focus with a handful of other figures. Van Gogh has minimized the human presence in his composition to two figures other than Lazarus; he has completely removed almost all elements of the painting except for this image of death. As he had done in his life at this time, Van Gogh focuses on death, bringing it to the foreground of his painting in an interesting parallel to its position in the foreground of his life.

Furthermore, Van Gogh has altered the setting for his copy of this painting in an extremely significant way: he has moved it outside. While Rembrandt's scene takes place indoors, Van Gogh has brought it out into the warm yellow sunlight, and placed in the background the glowing orb of the sun over an indication of a mountainous landscape. Van Gogh chose to move this scene of death to the outdoors because that is where he saw death; he moved it to a location that was to him more fitting, in a clear manifestation of his association between death and the outdoors.

___Text and images courtesy "Princeton.edu Blogs"

 

The Raising of Lazarus (1619) - oil on canvas,
by Guercino (Italian; 1591-1666)
now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris

___Text and image courtesy "The Web Gallery Of Art"