Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Crucifixion

Title: The Crucifixion

Artist: Thomas Eakins

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 54 x 96 cm

Date: 1880

Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Mark 15:24 And they crucified him.

“The Crucifixion” is surely one of the greatest of Eakins' explorations of the potentially difficult, pained relation of the soul and the world. Eakins suspends his Christ figure uneasily between the dust and dirt of the world (visible in the figure's feet, fingernails, and uncut and broken toenails) and a state of sublime spiritual calm beyond earthly concerns and contingencies (felt in the elegant lines of the figure's body and the serenity of his delicately bowed head). The viewer is similarly placed in an unresolved, in-between position as a result of the low angle at which Christ is presented. Rather than standing below Christ approximately at the level of his feet, where crucifixion altarpieces customarily locate the spectator, we are positioned approximately half-way up his body, encountering him not distanced from us, floating over us as a God, but with an uncomfortable intimacy and equality. Adding to the effect, the boyish grace of the frail body defines the figure neither as entirely man nor God, but at an unresolved in-between point.

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important artists in American art history. He studied drawing and anatomy at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts beginning in 1861, and attended courses in anatomy and dissection at Jefferson Medical College from 1864-65. His scientific interest in the human body led him to consider becoming a surgeon, but Eakins then studied art in Europe from 1866 to 1870, notably in Paris with Jean-Léon Gérôme, being only the second American pupil of the French realist painter famous as a master of Orientalism.

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