Saturday, March 26, 2011


Title: Calvary
Artist: Nikolai Ge
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 278 x 223 cm
Date: 1892
Location: Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

John 19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Ge reworked this canvas several times, as evidenced by the figure of the Roman centurion looming up unfinished, or partly repainted, in the background. He tried by formal means to translate the moral torment and suffering by accentuating the expressiveness of the faces, and refusing the academic vision of an ideal, inhuman body, unaltered by the Passion. The dramatic lighting intensifies the violent emotion that he wanted to trigger in the spectator. The work was considered shocking and near-blasphemous, and Tsar Alexander ordered it to be withdrawn from the 22nd exhibition of the Itinerants where it was shown for the first time.

Nikolai Nikolayevich Ge (February 1831 –June 1894), a Russian artist, was born into a noble family of French origin. His parents died when he was young and he was raised by his serf nurse, who taught him compassion for the humiliated and a keen sense of other people’s sorrows. Ge entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1850, graduating in 1857 with a Major Gold Medal for his picture The Witch of Endor Calling up the Spirit of the Prophet Samuel. He traveled extensively over the next dozen years, finally settling in St. Petersburg in 1870 where he became one of the founders of the Peredvizhniki, the Society of Traveling Art Exhibitions. He was not a practicing Orthodox, but was deeply influenced by morality and Christian spirituality. He spent the last years of his life working on a cycle of paintings of the Passion of Christ, under the influence of the progressive writer Leo Tolstoy.

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