Many of Marc Chagall’s paintings could be described as lively, romantic, humorous, imaginative, and filled with brilliant colors, but his White Crucifixion (seen below) is largely drained of color. Chagall painted it in 1938 while living in Paris, in response to the horrifying events of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” an anti-Jewish pogrom of official decree by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany (including Austria and Sudetenland) from the 9th until the 10th of November 1938.
This painting represents a critical turning point for Chagall: it was the first of an important series of compositions that feature the image of Christ as a Jewish martyr and dramatically call attention to the persecution and suffering of European Jews in the 1930s.
In White Crucifixion, his first and largest work on the subject, Chagall stressed the Jewish identity of Jesus in several ways: he replaced his traditional loincloth with a prayer shawl, his crown of thorns with a headcloth, and the mourning angels that customarily surround him with three biblical patriarchs and a matriarch, clad in traditional Jewish garments.
At either side of the cross, Chagall illustrated the devastation of an officially encouraged organized persecution: On the left, a village is pillaged and burned, forcing refugees to flee by boat and the three bearded figures below them—one of whom clutches the Torah—to escape on foot. On the right, a synagogue and its Torah ark go up in flames, while below a mother comforts her child. By linking the martyred Jesus with the persecuted Jews and the Crucifixion with contemporary events, Chagall’s painting passionately identifies the Nazis with Christ’s tormentors and warns of the moral implications of their actions.
|White Crucifixion | 1938|
Oil on Canvas | 60 7/8 in. x 55 1/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago