The representation of Jesus Christ crucified is a recurrent theme in the Catholic religion, due to the relevance of this episode and the symbolism of the cross. This matrix icon expresses Christ's suffering, but also his salvation. This is traditionally represented with the arms and legs stretched and nailed, which follow the shape of the cross itself. This cruel practice, committed for several centuries, which aimed at a slow and painful public death in order to intimidate the population, was eternally marked by the death of Jesus Christ.
The iconography of Christ's suffering and death has become, in the history of art, a way of representing human emotions and exploring different techniques based on a Catholic mission to sensitize the viewer. From the 20th century onwards, artists began to represent this moment with their own emotions and unique artistic languages. In order to understand how artists portray this episode relevant to the Catholic religion, we will set out on a discovery that will begin with the origin of this practice until its representation in the artistic production of Artur Bual and José Rodrigues .
Origin of the Crucifixion
When we refer to the term “crucifixion”, we are immediately reminded of the execution of Jesus Christ on the cross (the stretched and suspended body). This cruel practice, in which a person is left to die on a stake, appeared by order of the Assyrian king Shalmanesar, in the ninth century BC, through brutal military campaigns carried out by the Assyrian empire on neighboring civilizations that opposed the regime. The first records of this act, in terms of artistic representation, appear in the palace of King Salmanasar in some sculptures and high-reliefs.
The Roman crucifixion, which we know today through representations of Jesus Christ on the cross, only appeared in 332 BC, with Alexander the Great. We thus transitioned from Assyrian impaling to Roman crucifixion, when the Macedonian king had, for the first time, the survivors of the conquest of the island of Tyre hanged on stakes by the hands. In this way, it became a common practice among many peoples, such as the Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Carthaginians and Romans.
Death on a true cross appears with the Romans. This is intended for non-Roman citizens, slaves or disobedient people, according to the State. In the fourth century, this practice was eventually abolished; however, the cross became for Christians a permanent symbol of faith.
Iconography of the Crucifixion
The representation of the cross, became a Christian symbol portrayed several times in art, for expressing the suffering of Christ, but also his salvation. From the fifth century onwards, the first representations of Christ on the cross as a triumphant figure without any traces of suffering appear. During this period, there were two types of representations: Christ naked, with a cloth covering his private parts, without his feet nailed to the cross, and a second, in which he is portrayed in a loose robe and with symbolic elements such as the sun. One of the first examples of Jesus Christ suffering on the cross comes in the 13th century, with the Cimabue crucifix, in which he is depicted with his head down and his body completely contorted.
This type of representation evolved, becoming more and more complex, iconographically, by the inclusion of figures in the crucifixion scenario and by the introduction of new techniques. An example of this is the painting of Trinity by Masaccio, in which the use of perspective is introduced for the first time. The idealization of Christ on the cross reached its peak in the Baroque period, due to the characteristic expression and movement of this period.
At a time when artists have greater freedom of choice in relation to the subjects they deal with, we see them representing themes that were once linked to important commissions for members of the court or religious institutions.
In the 20th century, the theme of the crucifixion is taken up with a new, more personal perspective, by several artists, such as Pablo Picasso , Salvador Dalí , Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Paul Gaugin and Edward Munch. In Portugal, this representation is still present at the artistic level. Examples of this are the painter Artur Bual and the sculptor José Rodrigues.
Breaking with traditional crucifixion schemes, Artur Bual brings his emotions to the canvas. Black, white, red, blue and gray are the colors that fill these paintings created from large gestures. In the figurative scheme of the crucifixion, pain and tragedy are evident, through the face of Christ and the strokes in brush and black paint.
It was through the representation of the act of painting itself, in a debate between the abstract and figuration, that Artur Bual became one of the first Portuguese abstract gestural painters.
On the other hand, José Rodrigues created several works with religious themes, including a long series of sculptures and drawings that demonstrate the suffering of Christ. His pieces provide an analogy of sensations, identifying the artist and the spectator with the image of Christ in an act of self-portrait. Wrapped in expressionist traits, the crucifixion is approached in the Portuguese artist's work in an intimate way and focused on the physical suffering of Christ.
From the representations present in the Marketplace of P55 of these two Portuguese artists, we understand that, nowadays, artists are concerned with representing this religious episode in order to offer an understanding of their own sensations, with the intention of transmitting them to the viewer . In addition to religious works, Artur Bual and José Rodrigues offer a range of pieces that can be seen on the P55 Marketplace.