The Ascension; Jean COLOMBE; 1485-89; illuminated manuscript ; «Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry»; Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

Christus Rex

The Ascension of Christ

To understand


Christ is moving up above a crowd of men and women.

Christ is standing, glorious, surrounded by rays of gold and accompanied by small angels whose positions indicate that he is ascending to Heaven.

The crowd is divided by a rock covered with turf bearing the prints of two feet; these are the marks left by Christ who was previously on the rock. The women are on the left and at the front one can recognize Mary, Jesus’ mother. The men are on the right and the man in the foreground is the Apostle John; always young and beardless. Thus Mary and John can be found on each side of Jesus as at the foot of the cross.


The representation of this Ascension has undergone many changes. At the end of Antiquity, Christ was simply lifted towards the Heaven by the hand of God.

The true representation of the Ascension starts with a big cloud from which emerges only Jesus’ head or which, on the contrary, conceals it completely except for his feet that are still visible.
Then Jesus is represented in full, either standing or sitting on his throne, which can create some confusion with the Transfiguration.

The onlookers are numerous: the apostles to whom are added the Virgin sometimes placed in the centre, and some disciples. Two angels sometimes come to explain to the disciples what has just happened; they carry messengers’ sticks.

The scene takes place in nature on a hill and sometimes the footprints of Christ are left on the ground.




Not be confused with



The Transfiguration; Lorenzo LOTTO; 1510-12; oil on wood; Pinacoteca Comunale, Recanati, Italy.

Web Gallery of Art



In this picture Jesus is elevated above the ground where his disciples are. But this is the Transfiguration. He is with Moses and Elijah and there are only three apostles.

(See The Transfiguration)


The Assumption of the Virgin; Nicolas POUSSIN; 1650; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Web Gallery of Art


Mary is lifted to Heaven by some angels; this is her Assumption. Sometimes her death bed can be seen on the ground together with the Apostles who are around her.

(See the Woman of the Apocalypse).



The Resurrection; El GRECO; 1596-1610; oil on canvas, altarpiece, College of Dona Maria; Toledo, Spain.

 CGFA - A Virtual Art Museum



The risen Christ is represented in his ascent above a crowd, but the latter is made up of soldiers guarding the tomb; moreover Christ often holds the banner of Easter.

 (See the Resurrection of Christ)



The biblical narrative

  The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1

After the Resurrection, the Apostles asked Jesus, saying: :  "Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" And he said to them : "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power..."   
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Who also said : "You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven."
(Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11)


Since Christians speak about the Incarnation of the Son of God as a “descent”, it is natural to use the metaphor of the ascent to designate the entry of the risen Christ into the glory of his Father.


See similar pictures


The true representation of the Ascension starts with a big cloud from which emerges only Jesus’ head or which, on the contrary, conceals it completely except for his feet that are still visible. The Jesus is represented in full, either standing or sitting on his throne, which can generate some confusion with the Transfiguration.

Jesus is lifted from a rock. The medieval drawing engraves the feet of Christ but refrains from representing the Heaven; Giotto’s painting creates two separate registers for the angels.



The Ascension, coloured pen drawing from “Speculum Humanae Salvationis”; manuscript MMW 10 B 34; Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno Den Hague



The Ascension; GIOTTO di Bondone; 1304-06; fresco; Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

CGFA - A Virtual Art Museum



While Garofalo insists on the materiality of the Ascension, Doré transforms it into a vision.



L’Ascension du Christ; GAROFALO ; 1510-20 huile sur panneau ; Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Web Gallery of Art



The Ascension; Gustave DORÉ; 1865 engraving from “the Holy Bible”.

Education Environnement


In the Renaissance, this ascension came close to the apotheosis of pagan heroes who were deified after their death and received by the gods into the heavens.

Tintoretto goes back to traditional elements but, by building a view from above, he creates a movement of ascent.



The Ascension; Jacopo Tintoretto; 1578-81; oil on canvas; Scuola di San Rocco, Venice.

Web Gallery of Art




Further developments



Ascension, assumption, apotheosis… What is the relation between the earthly world and the divine world?


In the Bible as in pagan antiquity, the divine world is high up in the heaven, hence a vertical relation but, contrary to paganism, the biblical heaven also evokes the future since the abode of the elect is called the Kingdom of Heaven; thus any man is invited to go up to heaven by following the Christ of the Ascension.

One speaks of the Ascension for the risen Christ going up to heaven, of the Assumption for Mary who is called there body and soul (it is the feast celebrated on August 15th). As for the apotheosis, it is derived from the Greek for “deification” but, since the 17th century, the word has been used for a triumph and to designate the ascent to heaven of the souls of saints.




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