Agony in the Garden


Pen and greyish brown ink
Inv. No. 695

20.6 × 29.3 cm

zur  Biographie

In the gospel accounts of the Passion we are told that, on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives with three of his disciples, Peter, James and John. Filled with mortal dread, he begged God to let the cup of suffering pass over him, but at the same time submitted to his father’s will. Meanwhile the disciples whom he had asked to keep vigil with him fell asleep, abandoning him in his agony. In drawings, woodcuts and engravings, Dürer frequently revisited the scene in Gethsemane, in which Christ’s dual nature, both human and divine, expresses itself most dramatically. The theme of that profound anguish and how it was overcome by the spirit was one that greatly preoccupied the master of Nuremberg. The Städel Museum’s pen drawing, which has the character of a full-fledged painting, was produced while Dürer was still travelling in the Netherlands, and it is mentioned in his diary in May 1521. In the foreground, drawn with controlled but lively pen-strokes, is a stepped and upward-sloping rock on which the desperately pleading Christ has thrown himself face down with arms outspread. In front of him a small angel holds the cup of suffering. In the middle ground, behind the rock, one can see the garden enveloped in nocturnal darkness, with the sleeping disciples. On the right, in the distance, a procession of men approaches to arrest Jesus. In his posture of utter helplessness, Jesus appears to be both bound to the earth and thus human, and at the same time floating above it as an inhabitant of the celestial realm, which is present in the picture in the form of the angel, a ribbon of cloud, and the slowly encroaching band of mist. The disciples, sound asleep and wholly of this world, are oblivious to the spiritual dimension. Dürer had previously always depicted scenes of the Passion in a vertical format. The horizontal format of this 1521 drawing gives it an epic calm, which draws the viewer’s attention to the meaning of what is happening rather than to the drama of the events themselves. There are several horizontal-format drawings by Dürer on the theme of the Passion dating from the 1520s (including another in the Städel Museum, Inv. no. 694). It has been suggested that the artist might have been planning a series of woodcuts in this format depicting the Passion. If so, this drawing could be seen as a study for a woodcut. However, no such series was ever executed. There is a horizontal-format woodcut of the Last Supper dating from 1523, but it reflects then-current topics of the Reformation debate and is not to be regarded as part of a series.

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