Marc Chagall’s Jesus

Brad Miner | February 1, 2022

In Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion,” now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Jesus is in a tallit, the traditional prayer shawl worn by religious Jews, especially the Hassidim. He also wears the sort of headcloth a shepherd might wear. (All Jewish men traditionally cover their heads in prayer.) The barely legible inscription above Christ’s head is the Latin INRI and its Aramaic translation. A menorah is below his feet. Obviously, Chagall meant to emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus.

Scholar Ziva Amishai-Maisels of Hebrew University in Jerusalem writes that Chagall’s rendering of “Nazareth” (HaNotzri) in “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews” was the artist’s double-entendre, the word Nazarene having become another name for “Christian.” Thus, Amishai-Maisels writes, Chagall “emphasized Jesus’s importance to both Christians and Jews, for the Jewish Jesus with his covered head and his fringed garment is also a Christian.” (Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 15, No.2, 1991)

(It’s interesting to note that in Arabic, the letter nun has been painted by ISIS on Christian homes in Iraq and Syria. It’s the initial letter of Nazarene and used by the terrorists to indicate those to be exiled or martyred. Nun or nün is written similarly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic.)

In 1938, when Chagall painted “White Crucifixion,” European Jews were beginning to face the worst persecution in history.

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