Marc Chagall is the prototypical Jewish artist. While he may be best known for his depictions of the precarious, joyful life of Eastern European Jews, he is less celebrated for his artwork portraying the crucifixion of Jesus.
Chagall’s portrayal of a suffering Jesus populate Chagall: Love, War, and Exile, a startling and provocative show at the Jewish Museum in New York. According to an article in ARTnews by Robin Cembalest:
Focusing on the years 1930 to 1948, the darkest and most desperate time of Chagall’s life, [the show] examines the ways he responded in his painting to the rise of Fascism, the Holocaust, and the death of his wife Bella.
As the exhibition’s curator notes in the catalogue, the museum is aware that some constituents might find the subject transgressive. Crucifixions are a staple of Western art, but not of Jewish museums, namely because they depict an event for which Jews were blamed and often persecuted.
The counterintuitive twist is that Chagall deployed the crucified Jesus as a tragic, urgent messenger whose purpose was to bear witness to the suffering of the Jews and bring it to the attention of the world.