White Crucifixion (1938) by Marc Chagall

White Crucifixion - Marc Chagall - 1938

Artwork Information

TitleWhite Crucifixion
ArtistMarc Chagall
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions155 x 140 cm
Art MovementNaïve Art (Primitivism)
Current LocationArt Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, US
Location Created Paris, France

About White Crucifixion

“White Crucifixion” is a poignant work of art created by Marc Chagall in 1938. This religious painting, measuring 155 by 140 centimeters, was crafted using oil on canvas. It is an exemplar of Naïve Art, commonly associated with Primitivism, and was made in Paris, France. The artwork is currently housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, located in Chicago, IL, USA.

The artwork depicts a crucified Jesus Christ at the center, clad in a white cloth that starkly contrasts with the surrounding turmoil. Jesus’s traditional Christian iconography is interfused with Jewish symbols, reflecting Chagall’s own Jewish heritage. Around the central figure, the canvas is populated with a series of chaotic and distressing scenes that echo the political turmoil and persecution of Jews in Europe at the time. Houses are up in flames, people are fleeing, a boat loaded with passengers is seen, and at the bottom, there is a rabbi holding Torah scrolls. The presence of Jewish refugees alludes to the violence inflicted upon the Jewish communities, particularly around the time of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass). The various vignettes seem to blend the narrative of Christ’s suffering with the contemporary suffering of the Jewish people.

Despite the absence of explicit violence, the suffering is palpable through disorientation and the upheaval depicted. Details such as the Menorah, the sacred candelabrum, situated at the bottom left, reinforce the Jewish identity within this Christian scene. Elements of the painting also seem to float in the background, lending an ethereal and dream-like quality to the work, which is typical of Chagall’s style. The artwork is imbued with a profound sense of empathy and historical witness, serving as a testament to both religious hope and the somber realities of the time in which it was created.

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