Go to contents

Faith in artist’s mind

Posted April. 06, 2023 08:05,   

Updated April. 06, 2023 08:05


Jewish people were discriminated against and persecuted during the Russian imperial era. They had no access to formal schooling and were not allowed to decide where to live. Many Jewish artists had to hide or deny their ethnic identity to stay safe in the artistic field. However, Marc Chagall was an exception in that he explicitly demonstrated his Jewish identity as part of his works of art.

“White Crucifixion” was produced by Chagall when he lived in France – the first piece depicting Jesus as a Jewish martyr. The artist replaced Jesus’ underwear and crown of thorns with a prayer shawl and a white headband, respectively, to clarify the Jewish identity of the martyr. Above the cross lie three rabbis and a female leader wearing traditional Jewish outfits. The fearful and tragic moments during the Holocaust are portrayed on both sides of the cross. On the left are refugees on the boat running out of their hometown, which was burned down by plunderers and attackers. On the right are a synagogue and the Torah engulfed in flames. A mother holds her baby, terrified, to calm him down.

By the time Chagall was working on this piece, the horrendous fear of the genocide of Jews by the Nazis suffocated the European continent. Artists were also in the grip of the Nazis. Many works of art, if they did not satisfy the taste of those in power, were denounced as “lewd,” ending up being seized or burned to ashes. The Nazis also stigmatized and mocked Chagall as a vulgar artist. Nevertheless, he did not apply pessimism to the artistic world he pursued on the canvas. For example, as shown in the drawing, five glowing candles, even with one blown out, symbolize the revival of Jesus, who weathered adversity, suffering, and even death.

As such, Chagall used this drawing to issue a warning message to those accountable for war and violence by associating the spirit of martyrdom and the revival of Jesus with contemporary events. After all, the only weapon in his hands was his drawing tools. His strong faith enabled him to take courage despite unfathomable fear and depict Jesus as having a peaceful facial look. He truly believed that God's judgment would bring justice to the world after hardships ended.