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The history behind Chagall’s Christs

2013 September 20
by Paul Vallely

The device was controversial. Many who had approved of this quintessentially Jewish painter – reductively dubbed the Jewish Picasso – were unhappy not just at these paintings but also when Chagall later accepted commissions to make stained glass windows in cathedrals.

But Chagall was untroubled. He referred proudly to “this little Jewish people who gave birth to Christ and Christianity”. He saw in the suffering of the Jews the suffering of all humanity and the innocent man on the cross as its emblem symbol. His Jesus often wore a prayer shawl for a loincloth on the cross.

His painting War  is the most powerful example at the Tate exhibition. But perhaps the best example is the new Pope’s favourite painting White Crucifixion in which the figure of Christ is illuminated by a shaft of light. “It isn’t cruel, rather it’s full of hope,” Pope Francis has written. “It shows pain full of serenity. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things Chagall ever painted.” It is why Chagall is an artist of shared humanity.

The Church Times

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