Being Easter weekend, my news feed on Facebook has been clogged up with images and artwork portraying the crucifixion of Christ. Some respectful, some irreverent. But by far the image that most caught the eye, and the imagination, was the image of the sculpture by British artist Paul Fryer.
Made of wax, wood, and human hair, the work was entitled ‘Pietà.’
Pietà means pity. A pietà is a painting or sculpture of Mary holding and grieving over the dead body of Christ. There have been many of these paintings and sculptures done. The most famous is the sculpture by Michelangelo in St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This is the only work that the sculptor ever signed. The story has it that the artist was proudly watching a throng of people looking at his creation, when he overheard some admirers attribute it to other artists. Overcome by anger, he signed the statue, later regretting it and vowing never to sign any of his work again.
I guess even geniuses can be a little vain. And temperamental.
In 1972 a mentally disturbed young man attacked and damaged it with a hammer, shouting “I am Jesus Christ.” It had to be painstakingly restored. When I viewed this magnificent piece of art, when I was in Rome in 2009, it was through the bullet proof glass that now protects it. I suppose the logic is that if Jesus Christ can smuggle in a hammer, he can smuggle in a handgun.
But back to Paul Fryer’s work of Jesus in an electric chair and the controversy it caused when revealed in 2009. It should be remembered that it was shown not in a museum but in a Cathedral in France – with the blessing of the local bishop. Monsignor Jean-Michel di Falco explained that he wanted “to make us aware once more that someone being nailed to a cross is a scandal. Usually, we no longer feel any real emotions in the face of something truly scandalous, the crucifixion.”
What do we think of this sculpture? In the 21st Century where executions still take place. Have we become blasè when confronted with images of the crucifixion? Does this work of Jesus, cradled in the arms of a wooden electric chair instead of those of his mother, shake us from our indifference?
Respectful or irreverent?
Over to you, dear reader.