Great Works: The Risen Christ (c1532), Michelangelo

The Royal Collection, London

Football itself may be a beautiful game, but there are no beautiful pictures of football. It's a mysterious problem. Surely these scenes of human anatomy and action should be a glory. Surely somebody's creative genius should be able to match the genius of the sport. But for some reason there seems to be a mistake, image-wise, about the whole subject. Is it the unfortunate stripes? Perhaps. Or is there something odd about strikers, headers and savers – these figures that have added balls – that makes the bodies undignified? Perhaps too. One way or another, no satisfactory artistic solution has ever arisen.

True, there are a few possible paintings from the 20th century. For example, there is Henri "Douanier" Rousseau's naïve The Football Players (1908), showing four absurd moustachioed gentlemen, leaping around in elegant and striped pyjamas, and twirling up a ball. Alternatively, there is Umberto Boccioni's Dynamism of a Soccer Player (1913), a tornado of pure Futurism, an energetic scrum of forms, though more or less unrecognisable as a form of human activity or anything else.

Or there is Max Beckmann's Footballers (1929). This is a scene with a very high format, often used by this painter, and piling up one sturdy body on top of another, with kicking feet, grasping hands, and suggesting a sport more like basket ball. Finally, and much later, there is the most bizarre tableau of William Roberts's Goal! (1968), a small group of wooden, clodhopping figures, which resembles a minor league event, though meant to celebrate the 1966 World Cup victory.

In short, the genre is hapless. You'll have to check up it, but no soccer painting has even produced a decent work of art. Two of these pictures are not even football subjects. They're rugby football subjects, though that doesn't really make much difference. We must simply accept the difficulty. There is no literal image worthy of the game. So, we must seek a more lateral image – and something triumphal, amazing, a physical action beyond belief, a miracle. Surely it does exist. In fact, there is only one possible artist and one possible subject.

Michelangelo's The Risen Christ is the greatest player. He depicts a supremely heroic body. But he's also deeply concerned with the construction and the malleability of the human form. His art has a power that is both exhilarating and alarming. He can do to this figure whatever he likes, put it through the most incredible twists and turns, displacements and distensions, make it into the most contradictory shapes. Limbs can go this way, while seeming to perform a continuous gesture. This is a form of drawing, which is also a form of training, which is also a form of sport.

This particular subject, the Resurrection, offers both opportunities and freedoms. The Gospels never describes the event. They treat it as fait accompli: the grave empty and Jesus already up and about. As artists often picture it, it looks like a firm and straightforward act of will – Jesus advancing out of the tomb with a strong leg to the fore, or levitating several feet in the air above it.

But when Michelangelo shows this act, you can't tell if Jesus is doing it, or it's happening to him, or what's happening exactly. It's a radically ambiguous art, that's bent on daring impossibility. The action of the figure is almost indescribable. It's a thoroughly complex articulation, combining a forward stride, a backward lurch, an outward fling and an upward yank.

The potential for triumph is there. One leg is planted firmly, vertically forward. The arms are ready for victory. But then this leg does a sideways tort, which aligns with the much less grounded other leg and the teetering torso. The left arm becomes a frantic attempt to regain balance, while the right arm, reaching straight above the head, seems to be pulled up by an invisible grasp. The reviving figure is staggered, disoriented, tipping over, struggling for equilibrium and self-control among these bewildering forces.

And as the body becomes deeply involved in its action, the story itself is less clear. Of course the setting is a tomb, not a goalmouth. One leg steps on a stone lid, the other leg is coming over this opening, and the body is emerging into life. But the tomb is shallow and very vague, and the figure's gestures can suggest other possible activities. He could be saving himself. He finds himself thrown in the midst of things. He could be catching out for something or pushing it away. His hands may be raised up. His stance may be ready. His body may have no certain focus, and he turns this way and that, but he has at least a powerful sense of quick response.

So this rising man is also a player. He isn't a solo agent. We may not be able to see any other figures in the picture, but look at his performance. His struggles are subject to surrounding forces. He's moving in a world of actions and reactions. This figure, in fact, is very clear: a man on a field of battle, armed only by his body, with a bar above him, and a danger rapidly coming towards him. Michelangelo has somehow imagined this modern ideal. Spot the ball? We can't see it until the last second. And then it happens. He is salvation. The unbelievable goalie.



Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines