Just how much vitality should there be in a crucified Jesus?
It is a peculiar question, no doubt. But it is a question that arises when different visual representations of the crucifixion are set alongside each other. This question was raised for me in a brief conversation with Tim Lennon during the recent CIVA (Christians In the Visual Arts) conference in Chicago. Lennon worked for many years as a conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago. Along with Linda Stratford and Bruce Herman, he offered reflections during a guided tour at the Institute during the conference. Given his training and experience, he was able to provide insight into the materials, condition, and provenance of various pieces.
While looking at Franciso de Zubarán’s The Crucifixion (1627) Lennon suggested to me that if there was anything unique about Zubarán’s representation, it was that this is a decidedly dead Jesus.
Jesus’ face, here, is beyond pallid – it is grey with death. Lennon suggested that, unlike Zubarán’s crucifixion, many other such representations leave the dead Jesus with a certain vitality. While Zubarán presents the body of Jesus as strong, symmetrical, and almost-ideal, and while Jesus’ body may be described as merely pallid, the most striking aspect of the piece is the grey-blue shadow of death that lies across the face of Jesus. Continue reading