Thursday, December 06, 2012

A quick thought...

Not a lot of verbiage, just a quick thought.  (Brought on by a post on Facebook)

Images of christ are all over the christian world.  People have been making images which supposedly depict him in myriads of ways - on the cross, preaching, at the last supper, all sorts of depictions of him to illustrate his ministry and the parables he told in the New Testament.

Now, as a student (once upon a time) of art history, we saw a lot of them, and viewed a good representative sampling of them from different cultures and time periods.  As a comment on that Facebook post noted, it seems that people depict him as they view themselves - or, cynically, he is depicted like the local population so they will identify with him better.

As an atheist, I am tempted (there's that word...) to choose the latter, but is that really true?  Is it totally false?

I don't know.

I am aware that in ages past, the RCC has chosen to wrap its own celebrations of church events around times on the calendar which coincide remarkably to traditional holidays in the competing religious calendars of the locality where they were trying to integrate themselves into the culture.  I mean, its obvious, don't you think?  If you've taken control of an area and you want the locals to accept the religion you are cramming down their throats, wouldn't that process be helped along if they could "celebrate" your new holiday on a day when they are accustomed to celebrating one of their own traditional holidays?  If you are poor, scrabbling for a living from the land, any day off is a good day, and in the long run, does the name of the god you are forced to worship really matter?

Again, I don't know.  I've never been in that situation and I hope sincerely that I never am.  But that is the situation historically, when the RCC moved into an area and supplanted the local religion, often by force.  It just seems sensible that as that new area is brought into the fold of the church, they'd commission artwork to depict Jesus in a way that the locals would identify with, instead of being different.

Although I guess it could make sense to others that making him look like the new masters would send a very different message - obey or die!  After all, looking at the raw christian message as preached in the mid first millennium, being told that to disobey god was to spend eternity in hell would be a very intimidating message...especially when the church - or your local lord - had the power to send you there a bit earlier than you might like with the power to advise god as to where you needed to be!

Sorry this is so sordid, but looking at the history and the biblical message from the outside, this is what I see.

You might look at it differently.

1 comment:

Vincent said...

I have a friend who has a hand-carved nativity set made by a Masai bushman. My friend commissioned the artist. He told him he needed a man, a woman, a child, 3 kings and some shepherds. My friend returned to Africa a year later and visited the artist to collect the pieces. Of course they all looked like Masai tribesmen, woman and kings. My friend expected nothing less. If you are told to draw a person (and have talent) your drawing will look like the people around you. It is only a fairly recent phenomenon of trying to homogenize depictions - possibly because of the invention of mass-production techniques.

A good example to demonstrate this is that if you look at Renaissance paintings of the Jesus story, most people are dressed like Renaissance Europeans. They knew the people dressed differently in ancient Palestine, but to make a picture relatable you draw it the way people expect it, not necessarily how anthropology would tell you it would have been.