Gallery 395A is tucked away in a corner on the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago’s modern wing...which contains...Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion” (1938)...the Chagall painting has been making international news. In interviews with Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin for the 2010 biography El Jesuita, Pope Francis identified “White Crucifixion,” which depicts a Jewish Jesus, wearing a tallit instead of a loincloth, as his favorite work of art. “He likes us, he really does,” Tweeted Miriam Shaviv, a columnist for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, about the pope.
But there’s more to the painting than “owning” Jesus as a Jew. Surrounding Jesus, we see a synagogue, a Torah scroll and a shtetl burning, as armed men march carrying red flags. And in the bottom-right corner, the Wandering Jew, donning a blue cap and a green coat, lugs a sack as he trudges past the smoking Torah.
That the chief executive of the Catholic Church has an affinity for a painting that was created by a Russian-Jewish artist and also includes the symbol of the eternal wanderer, who was punished for abusing Jesus and became the pretext for centuries of anti-Semitism, is drawing a range of reactions.
"...“I know nothing of the pope’s taste, so I have no idea why he likes that painting,” said Matthew Baigell, who is professor emeritus of art history at Rutgers University and has published extensively on Jewish artists.
Marc Michael Epstein, professor of religion at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., sees things differently. The notion of a Jewish Jesus and its reference to Jews and other marginalized groups is very appealing post-Vatican II, he said....
Chicago’s (Jesuit) Loyola University Museum of Art is exhibiting some of Chagall’s work in “Graven Images: Marc Chagall’s Bible Illustrations” through June 16.... Jonathan Canning, senior curator at the Loyola museum...declined to comment specifically on the pope’s aesthetic preferences...Canning says that Chagall was clearly introducing a new interpretation of the crucifixion..."
Afterword by Michael Hoffman
Tedious, strait-jacketed thinking is the signifier in this report (“He likes us, he really does,” Tweeted Miriam Shaviv, a columnist for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, about the pope.)
Actually Miriam, if the 2010 biography of the pope is accurate, he doesn't like you, or the Judaic people collectively. The assumption that because someone, in this case Pope Francis, is a shill for the Pharisees, he is thereby "pro-Jewish," is platitudinous rubbish.
Artist Marc Chagall depicts Christ being crucified while dressed in the garb of a Pharisee. What would the world think of the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem if he admired a painting of a "Jew" being "gassed in Auschwitz" wearing the uniform of a Nazi?
Chagall, in his delirium, portrays the victim of the Pharisees dressed as a Pharisee. Chagall's depiction is a familiar Talmudic trope. It constitutes a disfigurement of Jesus Christ, who stated (in Matthew 23:5-7), that the long tassels (tzitzit) extending from the bottom of the prayer shawl (tallit), were a fixture of prideful display by the Pharisees. In "White Crucifixion" Chagall depicts Jesus garbed in this very attire, with long fringes hanging from the bottom of the garment clearly visible.
If this is a favorite painting of Pope Francis — Rome's "Peter Romanus” — then he has some explaining to do. For now it appears he is pandering to political correctness of the most virulent type, in order to be seen as hip, kosher and in tune with the world. Someone needs to remind His Holiness that the man on the Cross was none of those things.