In 2014, the ‘broken Christ’ crucifix that Michael Galovic had brought with him from Yugoslavia in 1990 was used as the core in his creation of an image of the desolation and humanity of Christ as evoked in his anguished cry from the cross and translated as, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ These are also the opening words of Psalm 22. The juxtapositioning of the broken Christ with the lances of Diego Velázquez’s The Surrender of Breda (1634–35) highlights the sense of defeat and desolation as well as the continuing threat of violence. As Galovic notes:
These lances, for me, feature as an ominous foreboding symbol of ‘empire’, or system, ready and capable of destroying any human.
The image is one of almost utter desolation; light from no discernible outside source illuminating Christ’s face.
Shortly after the work’s installation in Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Rosemeadow, in February 2023, the parish priest, Father Christopher Sarkis, suggested that it might form part of a triptych. Having seen a medieval manuscript’s illustration of the resurrection, he felt that this depiction would be suitable as the final image. Galovic suggested that the first item could portray Christ’s crucifixion and death through the imagery of the Arma Christi, and the head of Christ is based on the Shroud of Turin in the lower part of the image.
The completed work would thus contain a central contemporary work in muted tones, a first panel drawing on images of objects coming from a collection that has been a part of Christian iconography with its central image, the crucifix, having been used since the fourth century CE and a third panel based on a medieval manuscript. This seemingly disparate grouping also needed to be created in a way that would form a coherent whole. While having a linear structure in time that covered the period of Christ’s betrayal through to his resurrection and empty tomb, it also needed to have links established through the use of colour and form.
In the Arma Christi, the upper register highlights the betrayal of Christ and the mockery and savagery that attended his crucifixion. As with the central image, it references Psalm 22.16b–18:
[T]hey bound my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Christ’s final words from the cross – ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk 23.46) – with their tranquillity and faith, are embodied in the lower image, based on the Shroud of Turin, which, irrespective of its authenticity, forms a depiction of the final aspect of Christ’s human role in salvation.
In contrast to the violent instruments of betrayal, humiliation, and torture against their fiery background, it is a wonderfully expressive portrayal of calmness and completion. There is a great gentleness in the muted tones and careful delineation of the features, overlaid by the delicate treatment of the weaving of the cloth.
However, there is also a linking through colour, with the blue tones shown especially in the rooster, whip, and lance head in the top register being subsumed into the blue depiction of Christ’s face below. These two colour tones of blue and vermilion flow through to the central panel. In ‘Eloi, Eloi’, they appear in muted tones in the rocks foregrounding the spears, with the blue used on the image of the broken Christ.
They are then developed vibrantly in the final panel, which depicts two images associated with the resurrection. The vivid vermilion and oranges both frame the upper and lower panels depicting Christ’s resurrection and the myrrh-bearing women who came to anoint Christ’s body and form a significant part of each of the images.
The figure of the resurrected Christ in the top panel, surrounded by a golden-rayed mandorla, connects this image with the sacred, while the deeper tones used on the garments of the sleeping soldiers evoke Roman costumes.
In the lower image, the treatment of the angel at the tomb, with its flame-like wings and fiery countenance, creates a sense of otherness that is accentuated by the luminous white and gold of the robe. It also resonates with the garments of the two holy women closest to the tomb. Throughout both images, orange and vermilion tones highlight the fruitfulness of the trees while also forming contrasting highlights to the use of blue beneath them on the varying rock formations.
The interplay of colours creates a harmony that works beautifully throughout to unite the three images. But that is only one of its aspects. The top register of the first image, with its strong orange and vermilion tones highlighting instruments of torture and mockery, also evokes the fiery infernos of medieval hell-mouths and Renaissance depictions of hell. The contemporary image of the broken Christ, with its background imagery of war and defeat, highlights the bleakness of destruction. Yet, in the final image, all of these aspects are subsumed into the vibrancy and vividness of Christ’s resurrection, in which even the sleeping Roman soldiers had a place.
The Triptych is a tribute to both creativity and flexibility of form. In bringing together aspects of Christianity from different eras, cultures, and perspectives, it focuses on Christ’s sacrifice to redeem humanity. Each of the individual works evokes a different perspective, and through these images, the viewer is given a sense of the beauty and complexity of responses to the crucifixion and resurrection throughout the history of Christian art.