The representation of the crucifixion in art history

A representação da crucificação na história da arte

The representation of Jesus Crucified Christ is a recurring theme in the Catholic religion, due to the relevance of this episode and the symbolism of the cross. This matrix icon manifests Christ's suffering, but also his salvation. This is traditionally represented with arms and legs stretched out 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 various techniques based on a Catholic mission to sensitize the spectator. From the 20th century onwards, artists began to represent this moment with their own unique emotions and artistic languages. In order to understand how the artists portray this relevant episode for the Catholic religion, we will start with a discovery that will start with the origin of this practice until its representation in the artistic production of Artur Bual It is José Rodrigues



Artur Bual | Artists | P55 - The Art platform 

Origin of the Crucifixion

When we refer to the term “crucifixion”, we immediately remember the execution of Jesus Christ on the cross (body stretched out and suspended). This cruel practice, in which a person is left to die on a stake, would have emerged by order of the Assyrian king Salmanasar, in the 9th century BC, through brutal military campaigns carried out by the Assyrian empire against 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 from representations of Jesus Christ on the cross only appeared in 332 BC, with Alexander the Great. We thus move from Assyrian impalement to Roman crucifixion, when the Macedonian king ordered, for the first time, the survivors of the conquest of the island of Tire to be hanged on stakes by the hands. Thus, it became a common practice among many peoples, such as 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 4th century, this practice ended up being abolished; however, the cross has become for Christians a permanent symbol of faith.


José Rodrigues | Artists | P55 - The Art platform

Iconography of the Crucifixion

The representation of the cross, became a Christian symbol several times portrayed 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 appear as a triumphant figure with no trace of suffering. During this period, there were two types of representations: naked Christ, with a fabric covering his private parts, without his feet nailed to the cross, and a second, in which he is portrayed with a wide tunic and with symbolic elements such as the sun. One of the first examples of Jesus Christ suffering on the cross appears in the 13th century, with the crucifix of Cimabue, in which he is represented with his head down and his body completely contorted.

This type of representation evolved, becoming increasingly 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 expression and movement characteristic of this period.


Artur Bual | Artists | P55 - The Art platform


Artur Bual It is José Rodrigues: The Depiction of the Crucifixion

At a time when artists have greater freedom of choice in relation to the subjects they tackle, 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 crucifixion theme was taken up again with a new, more personal perspective by various artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Francis Bacon Marc Chagall, Paul Gaugin and Edward Munch. In Portugal, this representation continues to be present on an artistic level. Examples of this are the painter Artur Bual and the sculptor José Rodrigues.

Artur Bual | Artists | P55 - The Art platform


Breaking with the traditional schemes of the crucifixion, Artur Bual brings your emotions to the screen. 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 ink.

It was through the representation of the act of painting itself, in a debate between abstraction and figuration, that Artur Bual became one of the first Portuguese abstract gestural painters.

José Rodrigues | Artists | P55 - The Art platform

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. Involved in expressionist traits, the crucifixion is approached in the work of the Portuguese artist in an intimate way and focused on the physical suffering of Christ.

From the representations present in the P55 Marketplace of these two Portuguese artists, we understand that, in contemporary times, 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 spectator. . In addition to religious works, Artur Bual It is José Rodrigues offer a range of pieces that can be seen in the Marketplace by P55.

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