Painted in Paris by Laurent de La Hyre in 1650, a year before King Louis XIV came to power at the age of thirteen, this canvas is typical of a movement later known as “Atticism.” Following in the footsteps of Nicholas Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne, this school sought to elevate art to the highest degree of taste and perfect naturalness: to retain the best of the Renaissance without its seductive artifice, the best of the Baroque without its excessive ornamentation, and the best of Classicism without its academic austerity. It was through familiarity with the work of this Paris School that the young Sun King developed such an exceptionally sure aesthetic. This “French taste,” in all its stately aplomb, would be enshrined by the “great century of souls” to become the yardstick of taste the world over. Let us in our turn give in to the elegant finesse of this artistic expression. Without offending against the rules of perspective, the composition is powerful yet harmonious. The limpid luminosity of this divine dawn rising on the world’s horizon is rendered in exquisite nuances of color and an opalescent light that bathes the canvas like the morning dew. The palette is subtle, often in half-tones. The well-observed and delicate poses are accentuated by supple forms and the graceful flow of fabrics. Within the dynamic of his Resurrection, the resplendent Christ appears to the three Marys, while, in the background, we perceive the empty tomb, still illuminated by the presence of an angel (see Mk 16:1-8 and Mt 28:1-10). At a slight distance, Mary Magdalene raises her mourning veil to contemplate the radiant face of her Savior. In the foreground, Mary, the mother of James, and Mary Salome reach out to embrace the feet of the risen Lord—though he remains beyond their grasp. Here is a work that invites meditation of that new dawn when Christ, having escaped all human hold over him, sacramentally offered his all for us all. How has he henceforth remained present in our lives today, ever fulfilling our yearning to love and be loved?
Christ appears to the three Marys, Laurent de La Hyre (1606-1656), Louvre Museum, Paris, France. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Gérard Blot / Christian Jean.