Marc Chagall

“Crucifixion en vert” was composed by Chagall upon his return to Paris following a period of exile in New York, driven by the mounting threat of Nazism. The time he spent in New York between 1941-48 was turbulent. The grief and guilt Chagall experienced upon the discovery of the destruction of his home of Vitebsk, followed closely by the death of his beloved wife Bella, exacerbated his use of vivid religious imagery which continued throughout his later career.
This painting demonstrates Chagall’s repeated recontextualization of religious symbolism. Chagall renders Christ in a lurid light green, his skin illuminated by the Shabbat candles against a rich night sky. Suspended upon the cross that overshadows the composition, Christ is distinctively clothed in a tallit, the sacred Jewish prayer shawl, and wears a kippah. Nevertheless, these especial Jewish garbs contrast his halo, an indisputable example of Christian iconography. These symbols, combined with the religiously-ambiguous hooded entity kneeling in the background reminds the viewer of Christ as both a Jewish and Christian figure.
The recollection of Christ’s position as a Jewish martyr evokes a striking parallel with Chagall’s celebrated White Crucifixion (fig.1), wherein Christ is similarly attired in traditional Jewish garments. In both instances, the artist conveys a powerful message that transcends the commonly misconceived duplexity of Christianity and Judaism.
Furthermore, the attire of Christ in Jewish vestments takes on a symbolic representation, signifying the universal plight of the Jewish community who consistently faced persecution and vilification. Both Crucifixion en vert and White Crucifixion act as a nod toward the pervasive denigration of those who align themselves with Judaism but also a hope of restoration and rejuvenation. Chagall’s liberal application of green harks back to Psalm 1.3 of the Old Testament, whereby green is connoted as the colour of new life and fresh beginnings.
In his biographical writings, Chagall highlighted the significance he attached to preserving the essence of Hasidic Judaism in his art, recognising the lack of representation it had historically received. Thus, the reimagining of Christian iconography with Jewish symbolism demonstrates Chagall’s own interpretation of interfaith dialogue, reflecting the artist’s pursuit for reconciliation and justice that transcends the boundaries of faith.
The other figures in Crucifixion en vert, specifically the woman and the blue donkey, reflect a far more personal aspect to the work. Chagall’s wife Bella had died in New York in 1944, devastating the artist and leading to an inability to paint for several months afterwards. Cajoled by his daughter Ida, he returned to painting with a renewed fervour, vowing to honour his wife by memorialising her in his works. As a result, a rough sketch of a couple arm-in-arm can be found next to the shabbat candle. The blue ass represents Ida, whose childhood nickname was ‘ittle donkey’. This bittersweet and fragmented portrayal of the domestic life he had lost is a touching tribute to Chagall’s love for his family in a time of great upheaval and loss.

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