Undiscovered Good Friday Artworks: Perspectives of the Global South

Good Friday, a solemn day of remembrance, honours the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Christians around the world have expressed the cultural significance of this day through various forms of art that reflect on the suffering and compassion of the son of God.

As Christianity spread across the world,  powerful portrayals of crucifixion were made by artists from the Global South. It is essential to acknowledge and recognize such artistic depictions to understand social power structures within major religions. Additionally, these artworks also offer a counter-narrative to oppressive colonial and imperialist dogma often backed by the oppressor's interpretation of religion. In this article, let’s explore the art that allowed many to reclaim the significance of this religious day through their cultural identities. 

 

1. Crucifix by Kongo artists, Democratic Republic of Congo

Demonstrating the convergence of two worldviews, this brass casting is an example of the introduction of Christian iconography in central Africa by the Portuguese explorers in the late 1400s. In the early 16th century, influenced by Portuguese traders, the Kongo rulers adopted Christianity as the state religion to foster trade alliances with Portugal and Vatican, subsequently patronizing Christian artefacts made by Kongo craftsmen. The elements of certain Christian iconography resonated profoundly with local spiritual beliefs, and Kongo designers adapted and transformed Western Christian prototypes. 

Although the artwork depicts a general depiction of a central Christ figure with arms extended, his features are African, with broad, flattened feet and hands cast in reliefs. The abstract modelling of four miniature figures with clasped hands, two seated on the top edges, one at the apex and base, respectively, highlights the expressionistic treatment of this canonical theme. 

In Kongo beliefs, the cross is a metaphor for the cosmos. The Four Moments of the Sun, an icon featuring a cross inside a circle, symbolizes the four parts of the day (dawn, noon, dusk, and night) and represents the cyclical journey of life. Kongo kings baptized as Christians commissioned these locally made copper crucifixes as an emblem of power. 

 

Crucifix by Kongo artists, Democratic Republic of Congo: Good Friday Artworks
Crucifix, Kongo artist, 16th-17th century, solid cast brass, 27.3 cm high (source: Met Museum Archives)

 

2. The Crucifixion by Erhabor Emokpae

"The Crucifixion" by Erhabor Emokpae, a Nigerian painter and sculptor regarded as a pioneer of modern arts in Nigeria resonates on the festival of Good Friday. This stylized oil on canvas features bold lines and vibrant colours, conveying emotion and depth. In the background, the sky is rendered in bright, warm hues of orange and yellow, while the ground is depicted in shades of calm blue and green. The blue colours in the middle represent the divinity and peaceful nature of Jesus, even amid his suffering. The brown lines symbolically portray the roughness and ruggedness of the environment where the crucifixion took place and the harsh physical reality of the event. 

On a closer look, the wounds on his hands and feet are visible, as are the thorns in his crown. The cross is painted with richly textured, earthy tones that suggest a sense of weight and solidity. The depiction of the triadic motif of the crosses in the painting is significant because it not only captures the physical reality of the event, Christ in the centre with two criminals crucified on either side. But also emphasizes the spiritual and symbolic meaning of the crucifixion, representing the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

 

The Crucifixion: Good Friday Artworks

The Crucifixion, Erhabor Emokpae, 1984, Oil on Canvas, 84 x 102 cm, Sothebys, London (source: Art.Salon)

 

3. Crucifixion by Jamini Roy

In one of the boldest experiments in figuration and narrativization by renowned Indian artist Jamini Roy, his depictions of Jesus Christ's life is remarkable. Created in his characterized style of bold lines, flat colours, and Bengali folk art simplicity, this painting depicts Christ's crucifixion in vibrant colours offsetting the sombre mood of the picture. His geometric sense reducing the human forms to their bare essentials in the composition is visible in the grave faces of the crucified. 

Roy used indigenous material, lamp black colour for bold outlines, and seven primary colours (Indian red, yellow ochre, cadmium green, vermilion, grey, blue, and white), which he applied with organic tempera on handmade canvas cloth. This can be seen in the painting's earthy tones of brown, beige, and black. The background is light brown, while the figure of Jesus Christ is depicted in a darker brown colour.The depiction of the general public mourning Jesus's sacrifice in the painting incorporates Indian cultural elements as individuals are portrayed folding their hands. The Roman soldiers are shown in beige, with black outlines. The use of earthy tones and black outlines gives this artwork a distinct folk art feel. The limited color palette allows the emotions and symbolism of the crucifixion to be the focus rather than the intricacies of the painting technique. The painting is an excellent example of the power of folk art, which communicates complex emotions and ideas through simple forms.

 

Crucifixion by Jamini Roy, India: Good Friday Artworks

Crucifixion, Jamini Roy, Tempera on Canvas, 88.5 cm X 68.5 cm, National Gallery of Modern Art 
(source: Globalworship/tumblr)

  

4. The Descent of Christ into Limbo

"The Descent of Christ into Limbo" is a painting by Diego Quispe Tito, a Quechua artist from medieval Peru who is considered the leader of the Cuzco school of paintings., This school of art was a Roman Catholic tradition that flourished during the colonial period in Peru and other South American countries, from the 16th to the 18th century. 

In this 17th-century oil painting, Christ is portrayed as he embarks upon his descent into Limbo, the zone before the entrance to Hell, where he traveled after his death and before his Resurrection. Escorted by Adam and Eve, angels, and Old Testament prophets, he meets the many souls who have preceded him there. While the descent of Christ into Limbo is not a canonical Good Friday painting, the story is a part of early Church teachings and by the 15th century, it was an accepted Christian belief. Throughout history, this theme has been a subject of artistic interpretation and reflection for many artists

Set against a dark background the central Christ figure in a red robe and white shroud is blessing the people with his arms outstretched. The figures of the people are rendered in a realistic style, with intricate details and rich colors. In the background, Jerusalem, set in a mountainous landscape, forms the backdrop to scenes of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden. 

The use of light and shadow creates a sense of depth and dimension, emphasizing the three-dimensional quality of the figures. The painting also incorporates elements of indigenous Andean art, such as the use of gold leaf and vibrant colors. The composition of the painting is dynamic and energetic, with the figures arranged in a circular pattern around Christ. The use of diagonal lines and sweeping curves adds drama to the scene, creating a sense of motion and momentum.

 

The Descent of Christ into Limbo by Diego Quispe Tito: Good Friday Artworks

The Descent of Christ into Limbo, Attributed to Diego Quispe Tito, 17th century, Oil on Canvas,
Collections of Carl and Marilyn Thoma (source: paintingsbefore1800.com)

 

5. The Crucifixion by He Qi, China

He Qi, a Chinese artist reinterpreting religious art within an ancient Chinese art idiom, has also explored the theme of crucifixion in a striking painting. In this modern art, primary bold, bright hues of blue, red, green, and yellow, with thick black outlines, define the shapes and forms of figures, creating a sense of energy and movement. 

In the center of the painting, Christ is depicted on the cross, his body outlined in black with a glowing halo around his head. His arms are outstretched, his hands pierced by nails, and his feet are crossed over one another. Behind him, a blue sky and a bright yellow sun can be seen, radiating warmth and divinity. On either side of Christ, two other figures are depicted. To his right, a woman is shown weeping and mourning, her face contorted with grief. To his left, a man stands with his hands clasped in prayer, his head bowed in reverence. In the background, there are small flowers and plants depicted, adding a sense of life and renewal to the scene. In the bottom left corner, a small, dark figure is shown carrying a cross, perhaps a nod to the practice of carrying a cross in reenactments of the crucifixion.

 

The Crucifixion by He Qi: Good Friday Artworks 

The Crucifixion, He Qi (source: heqiart.com)

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