- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

Depictions of Jesus Christ’s wounds and suffering on the cross are on rare display at the National Gallery of Art as the museum presents its first comparison of painting and sculpture from the Roman Catholic Church.

Eleven paintings by Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Zurbaran and others are being displayed for the first time alongside 11 hyperrealistic painted wood sculptures from the 17th century in “The Sacred Made Real.”

“This interaction between painting and sculpture led to some really spectacular pictures,” said curator Xavier Bray of London’s National Gallery, who coordinated the exhibit. It took several years for him to negotiate with churches and monasteries to borrow some of the best examples of Spain’s religious sculpture.

Famous painters from the period may have taken inspiration from the less famous sculptors working nearby. During a tour of the exhibition, Mr. Bray argued that Velazquez likely worked off of sculptures by Juan Martinez Montanes in his painting “The Immaculate Conception.”

The softly lit gallery presents a walk through several key Christian themes, from the Immaculate Conception to the passion of Christ and the depiction of saints. The pieces are most notable for their extreme realism.

Visitors can walk behind a life-size figure of Christ to see depictions of the awful wounds on his back after he was scourged.

“It’s realism that goes further than realism,” Mr. Bray said of the 1621 sculpture by Gregorio Fernandez, “Ecce Homo” (“Behold, the man”). When the piece was on view in London, some visitors knelt and prayed.

“Realism is what does that,” Mr. Bray said.

“This is a product of a very clever marketing department in the Spanish church,” he said, an effort at the time to counter Protestantism and shock people with a personal connection to Christ.

The exhibit will remain on view during Holy Week (March 28 through April 3) and through the end of May. The National Gallery of Art will be the only U.S. venue for the exhibition.

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