Thursday, April 3, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - Christ in the Desert (Ivan Kramskoi)

My opinion about art and artists is this:  A truly great artist can and will at some point in their life create a gripping and masterful image of Christ, either in painting or sculpture.  And Ivan Kramskoi has done so here in his "Christ in the Desert."  Except this is not the glorified and majestic Christ that heals and restores, or brings food to the hungry or hope to the oppressed.  It's frankly the most miserable I've ever seen Jesus aside from hanging on the cross.  This is the scene where he is travelling through the desert and fasting for 40 days.  So let's face it, you would look just as miserable if not more so. 
I absolutely love so many things about this painting, it's hard to know where to start.  Again, as I've mentioned before, many of these paintings are the first ones of a particular artist that I had ever seen, and that is true today of this painting by Kramskoi.  I suppose the first thing that struck me about this painting when I first looked at it was the naturalism of both the figure of Christ and especially the landscape.  Kramskoi was one of the leading figures of the Itinerants, so he was against the rigid standards and expectations of the academic life.  But I am so glad he did not stray from the academic approach to painting, and just start following the ways of French impressionism or something.  Otherwise, this painting would probably look a whole lot different if he had ever done it. 
I also love the way Kramskoi has muted the colors here, even in Christ's robe.  The grayness of the color gives a convincing, sickly and malnourished look to the figure of Christ as if this was his lowest point of his 40-day fast and trek through the desert. 
The dark figure jumps out front and center as it sits in front of the light background.  It is a beautiful image where I imagine Christ settling on this as a camping spot for the night as the sun sets in the background.  But I see something else too.  I see the beauty of God's creation all around with the sunset and the rocky landscape, and yet Christ is in very bad, ugly shape.  It sort of makes me think of how the entire sum of all of God's creation is beautiful, and yet there is still pain and hunger in the midst of it.  And Christ knows that feeling firsthand.  In a way, he suffered through all of the pains of the world in those 40 days.  The pain of hunger, loneliness, exhaustion, and he experienced the lure and temptation of Satan just as we all do every single day.  And who knows what Jesus was feeling in that moment.  He may have really really wanted that bread.  He may have really wanted everything that Satan was offering.  But I think Jesus knew full well that it wasn't gonna happen.  As much as he may have wanted it, there was no way he would take it because he knew what his mission was.  He knew what his purpose was for that 40-day fast and for his entire life for that matter. 
I think each one of us needs that kind of conviction in our faith and in our life.  That no matter how rock bottom we hit or how tempting something is, we just know by natural instinct that we won't deviate from our faith and God's purpose for our lives.

Christ in the Desert
oil on canvas

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