Saturday, January 09, 2010
A Chagall painting - the Apocalypse in Lilac - has been re-discovered and bought by a London Jewish gallery.
It is one of the few (ten?) paintings by Chagall to feature a Jewish Christ on the cross. A controversial image for both Jews and Christians, but a highly significant one. Chagall is such a joyful painter that these images stand in stark contrast.
Painting crucifixes is part of Chagall's reaction to the events of the second world war. Beyond this I have only questions: Is this the only image that will suffice (as Chaim Potok's novel might suggest)? Is this reclaiming the cry of 'Christ-killer' to be synonymous with 'Jew-killer'?
I find Chagall's crucifixes to be devotional, precisely because they are Jewish in origin. They tap into the alien character of the cross, they recall the long history of Christian anti-semitism and refuse to let me off the hook as a viewer. And yet they do so with a loving touch. They are simultaneously reflecting horror of the cross and also the transforming power of the cross.