Pt 4: Spirituality in Marc Chagall’s Tudeley Church stained glass

CRUCIFIXION AND SALVATION: We shall now turn to the theme of the crucifixion in Chagall’s East window. Firstly, however, we must examine what is going on in the piece. The principal colour in the piece is a deep blue, which seems to engulf the world around the crucified Christ. There seem to be two spheres in the painting: a separation between heaven and earth. The lower half of the window depicts a world in turmoil, the girl Sophie lies drowned in the sea, on the right of the girl we see a figure mourning, with arms outstretched. Below this mourner, in the bottom right corner of the window, we see a female figure weeping. In the upper half of the piece, Christ is crucified. Chagall’s Christ is a mature man with black curly hair, his face is never pained and never has a crown of thorns. His feet are also rarely nailed to the cross. In Chagall’s later depictions of Christ he shows him to be serene in the face of suffering. This is curious when one thinks of Chagall’s less reverent early paintings of crucifixion theme, such as Golgotha, but also when thinking that in the 1950s, Chagall said that he wanted to paint Christ fully human, full of suffering, and full of love. This shows that for Chagall, Christ was more than just the Jewish martyr that is suggested by academics. Instead, it would suggest that Chagall saw Christ to be someone exemplifying love. This will be explored later. It is however curious what Chagall said about Christ being human and full of suffering. This is not the impression that one gets in the stained glass. Christ is not attached to the cross, nor does he looked contorted with pain; not only does he look serene, but he looks triumphant. The human side of Christ is his human frailty, but instead of depicting this, Chagall depicts someone godlike and triumphant over death. This is reaffirmed by the contrasting suffering around Christ.

His figure is also distinctly Orthodox in style. We see this in his body being very straight; it follows the cross’ structure, something that would have been influenced by what Chagall saw in his early life, when seeing Russian art. It is interesting also to note that when Chagall painted Christ in the 1940s, this was very much a taboo in the Jewish community as the cross was associated with the culture of the persecutor.

Below Christ we see a figure riding a horse and on the right of the horse is a ladder with someone about to begin climbing it. On the left of Jesus, we see a winged figure, and to the right of him, much smaller, we see two more figures. This would seem to be the heavenly realm. Despite this, for many post-war Jews, Christ was to be seen as a figure representing the separation of the heavenly realm: the abandonment of God. In Matthew 27:46, when Christ is on the cross, he cries out to God, “my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the same way that God abandoned Christ in this moment, some Jews saw it as an appropriate metaphor for the Jews feeling abandoned in Nazi death camps. In 1946, however, a year after the end of war in Europe, Chagall said that for him “Christ was a great poet, the teaching of whose poetry has been forgotten by the modern world.” This is an interesting way to view the figure of Christ, however it is true to say that his poetic manner was a great aspect of his preaching ministry. Christ relied on similes and metaphors to create parables to “give sight to the blind,” as he says in John 9:39. Chagall’s aim appears to be to show Christ to the world, because according to Chagall they have “forgotten him.”

Let us at this point establish what we know about Chagall’s worldview. He admitted in interviews that he worshipped the Jewish God, but that he regarded the whole Bible as his Holy Book. He believed that God made the world, that he is the ruler of the world, and that he made us rulers of the world, under his authority. This can be seen in his depiction of the Creation of Man in the Message Biblique series in Nice. He also believed that we have all rejected God as the ruler of our lives, and that by rebelling against God, we damage ourselves, each other, and the world. This can be seen in his depiction of the Expulsion from the Garden of Adam and Eve, and across his early works depicting humanity suffering in different situations. As Isaiah 53:6 puts it “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” This verse from the Jewish Tanakh would have been well known by Chagall. Indeed, Maritain said that Chagall, as a Hasidic Jew, was “bathed each day in the living waters of the Scriptures.”

Thus, we see that in the post-war period a very Jewish Chagall very clearly recognises the profound problem with the world: humanity’s fall has led to global suffering. However, Chagall does not address the consequence for humans. He does not address the fact that what he declared to be his Holy Book said that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” However, it is possible to assume this, as he recognised the need for a saviour. Despite it being claimed that Chagall was a universalist, apart from his love for depicting humanity in harmony, there is little to show that any universalism, namely the belief that all humanity would be saved. Nevertheless, he seems to have placed an emphasis on the Biblical doctrine that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth.” Thus, as discussed previously, Chagall incarnates this belief in humanity ultimately accepting the Truth and being saved. However, this shall be explored in more depth later.

To avoid a negative verdict from God, upon being judged, and in order to be saved and to know the Truth, the Christian understanding is that, in God’s love, he sent his son into the world in the man Jesus Christ. It is necessary to establish what Chagall did clearly believe about Jesus and build up from this. At the very least, we can know that Chagall placed an emphasis on Christ’s sinlessness. He is always depicted as innocent. Unusually for a Jew, Chagall wrote ‘King of the Jews’ above Jesus in some of his crucifixion paintings. Moreover, we see his view of Jesus constantly changing as he said in the middle of his career that the only thing preventing him from crowning Jesus with a halo was that it looked aesthetically too pious and sentimental. It is therefore fascinating to see that he later felt it appropriate to place a halo around Jesus’ head when painting him on Tudeley’s East window. In Chagall’s late career, his Mediterranean period, Jesus came to signify God’s salvation plan for humanity. It has often been argued that this period sees Jesus pushed to the side, as a depiction amongst other Biblical scenes, with humanity at the centre. However, once we understand what Chagall’s view of Jesus’ identity was, and what that means for humanity, we see that his depiction of humanity is absolutely inextricably linked to Jesus, and what he has done. We will later see this in his Tree of Life stained glass.

Chagall saw himself in the tradition of Rembrandt (1606-1669), whom he greatly admired. Interestingly, Rembrandt, although Christian, depicted Biblical scenes from a Jewish perspective, placing an emphasis on Christ’s physicality as a human. Chagall depicts Jesus as very much an elevated human, in that he is on the cross and yet he seems at peace; he is not in agony. Not only this, but he is depicted as being the answer to humanity’s suffering around him. As we shall later see, this whole idea of Christ being the saviour of humanity is confirmed in the other windows in Tudeley. However, we shall now explore the idea of redemption; we have explored the context of the Tudeley cross, we must understand the significance of the cross in an overarching redemption story for humanity.

It is a profoundly Jewish idea to think that one can contribute to the redemption of the world. The idea that everything natural can be redeemed and can be made holy is one espoused by Besht Zava’at ha-Rivash, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. This optimistic view of life best manifested in the greeting L’Chaim!, To Life!, leads the Hasidic Jew to find a redeeming feature in everything. This is something visible in Chagall’s work. This idea is known as Tikkun Olam, תִּיקּוּן עוֹלָם: the repairing of the world. In rabbinic thought, the Messiah is seen to fulfil Tikkun. We see in the Zohar, written in the second century by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Messiah is described as entering the Hall of the Sons of Illness, and summons upon himself all the diseases, all of the pains and all the sufferings of Israel so that they may come upon him instead of humanity. This is how God brings ultimate Tikkun. It is not through a warrior Messiah overthrowing the evil oppressor, rather it is through a gentle and lowly figure, sacrificially taking on humanity’s sin. It is possible that Chagall saw this and, like many Messianic Jews, equated this with Jesus.

However, Judaism also says that, to hasten the coming of the Messiah, Jews must perform mitzvot, good deeds, thereby helping to perfect the world. On the one hand, it is crucial to see this Jewish understanding of redemption to see how this worldview shaped Chagall’s work ethic, which we shall later see. On the other hand, it is interesting to see to what extent this differs from Chagall’s view, in his later life, if we understand him to have begun to see Jesus as being a Messianic figure, the one to save humanity.

After all the suffering that Chagall had been through, having to flee Russia, then having to flee France, he hoped for a redeemed humanity. He wanted to be an instrument in redeeming this humanity by building a museum entirely dedicated to Biblical paintings, which eventually opened in 1973. Chagall explained that it was created in order “that men may try to find a certain peace in it, a certain spirituality, a religiosity, a meaning to life.” This is what is crucial to Tudeley, too. He wants to guide humanity to what he sees to be a meaning to life. He wants to guide them to God through the winsomeness of beauty. In the post-war age in which he lived, this was the easiest way to guide people to God. Truth was seen as relative, so a conversation about God’s existence could not easily begin that way. An appeal to goodness was just as difficult due to the immense suffering experienced on a global scale. So, instead an appeal to beauty is far more winsome. Instead of proselytising in an overt way, Chagall merely wanted to guide his viewer to his work, not making any explicit comment. A crude comparison can be made with the approach taken by contemporaries of Chagall, in the literary world: C.S Lewis (1898 – 1963) and J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973). C.S. Lewis wanted to display the Christian worldview in an explicit manner in Narnia, showing which character was Jesus, and explaining it clearly. Tolkien, however, who detested obvious analogies, depicts God in a subtle manner throughout The Lord of the Rings. Crucially, C.S. Lewis experienced an immediate conversion to Christianity, whilst Tolkien’s faith was a more gradual development. This gradual development of faith leading to a subtle depiction of God throughout The Lord of the Rings has proven to be more winsome than the Narnian approach. Because not everything is explicitly on display, one can always return to the work and discover something new. In the same way, this subtle appeal to beauty can be seen in Chagall’s work. Like Tolkien, his spiritual journey is a gradual one. Like Tolkien, he was profoundly affected by the tragedies of the twentieth century. Instead of explicitly showing God, he seeks to present a work that has aspects of God in it, not explicitly named. For Chagall, paintings should merely depict line and colour, it is within these that the message should be deeply embedded. He firmly believed that the artist should not explain ones work; to him there ought not to be anything between the artwork and the spectator. It is important to remind oneself that Chagall also believed that there is no great art without faith. Indeed, it was really until the publication of his Bible that we see Chagall’s personal faith with greater clarity. By the time the Tudeley windows were made it had been many decades since Chagall’s rapprochement with the Maritains, and the spiritual journey that ensued from this. In Tudeley, we see a clear manifestation of Chagall’s understanding of Jesus’ identity. Although, in doing this, he took no account of the differences between Judaism and Christianity, instead he reduced all to the common denominator of human suffering, and how Jesus is at the centre of it all. This was the case throughout his post-war spiritual journey. For example, in Chagall’s great attachment to Israel, he depicted Jesus throughout the difficult periods of Israel’s history, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1967 Six-Day war, and the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

Chagall depicts Jesus not only as one who is at the centre of suffering, but as one who is the cure to suffering; one who acts as the redeemer for humanity. Despite all the chaos caused by humanity, humans can come to Jesus for salvation.

The Fall of Man is once again subtly on display in the East window, in the form of the angel in the top left of the piece. According to Meyer, Chagall added an angel in crucifixion scenes to represent the Fall of man. This is because the Fall can be seen in a literal sense, represented by wings, a reference to Icarus, and the female features of the angel refer to Eve.

Meyer says that the angel represents what should be seen as an inner “Menschheitskatastrophe”, a human catastrophe. Although this may be a little far-fetched, we do know that Chagall had an interest in the figure on Icarus, as he depicted The Fall of Icarus in 1975.

On the other hand, Meyer claims we could see the angel as hopeful, as the feminine beauty of the angel, could be seen to represent Shekhinah, שְׁכִינָה, a feminine word that represents God’s presence. This is rather specious however, as in Judaism, God’s Shekhinah is seen in the burning bush, or in the cloud that rests on Mount Sinai, it is also understood to have been present in the Tabernacle and in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was not depicted as an angel. Nor could it be a Christophany, an appearance of Jesus before his incarnation, because in the window Jesus is right beside the angel. It therefore seems unlikely that Chagall, deeply entrenched in Kabbalistic Judaism when young, would depict God’s presence in the form of an angel. Therefore, it makes more sense to see the Angel in the light of the Fall. Chagall is therefore presenting the problem: human sin. He then presents the solution. The window would suggest this is faith in Jesus. The ladder shows it.

The ladder is not to be used for a Descent from the Cross, as Jesus is not dead in this piece. Instead, it may represent salvation. For the Hasidic Jew, a ladder represents the link between earthly life and divine life. This idea originated with Jacob’s ladder. Can we therefore see the ladder as access to the divine life if we trust in Jesus? John 1:51 tells us of angels descending and ascending on the Son of Man. This is exactly what is happening in Tudeley. Chagall is depicting Jesus as the Son of Man. Jesus called himself the Son of Man very often, more often than the Son of God. On the one hand it could be interpreted as an ordinary human, as all men are sons. However, many would have known the reference of Son of Man to be referring to the exalted heavenly one referred to by Daniel. This exalted one will participate in God’s salvation plan for humanity. This is typical of Jesus, he was subtle, he would make explicit claims sometimes, and in other contexts he would make them less clearly. When he speaks about the Son of Man, this is not explicit. He is speaking to those who have “ears to hear.” In the same way, Chagall, who knew his Bible well, would have known about the Son of Man, this may be confirmed in the angels ascending and descending on him. Jesus aimed to communicate both his status as the exalted heavenly one from Daniel, but also his humanity. Chagall captures both.

We can also see an interest in baptism in the East window. Chagall was interested in the idea of baptism. This was made evident in the ‘Crossing through the Red Sea’ for the Baptistery in Notre-Dame de Tout-Grâce church on the Plateau d’Assy, in France. In front of it is a font. There is a typological link between the Red Sea and Baptism. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:1–2, “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptised, in the cloud, and in the sea.” This idea of Tevilah, טְבִילָה, the practice of getting ritually cleansed through full body immersion in water, is a profoundly Jewish idea.

There is a clear line of separation in the East window between the world of suffering, and the divine world, both are surrounded by water. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the symbolism of baptism is omnipresent. God brings order to chaos by acts of separating. In Genesis 1, God’s Spirit hovers over the dark waters of “wild and waste” (Hebrew: תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ). God separates the waters and creates a space where life can thrive, in Genesis 1:1-2. However, in Genesis 3, humanity rebels against God, and a separation between Him and humanity is once more created. So, throughout the Bible we see a repetition of this pattern of God separating the waters. Crucially, however, instead of restoring order through separation, God chooses a remnant of people to pass through the water to emerge on the other side, eventually, we see that this climaxes in the New Creation in Ezekiel 47:1, 6–12. A theme that was often explored by Chagall was the Exodus narrative of God’s deliverance of the Israelites. This begins with the baby Moses being saved from death by being delivered in a basket, referred to in the Hebrew as תבה (ark). This word only appears twice in the Bible, the other ark is in God’s deliverance of Noah through water. Through Moses, in Exodus 14:16, God then rescues his chosen people from Egypt by leading them through the Red Sea. In Joshua 3:2-4, we see this pattern, as the priests are carrying the Ark of the Covenant across the River Jordan. The river is parted, and they walk through. Elijah also passes through the waters to ascend to Heaven. In Isaiah 43:2, God says that “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” It is of paramount importance to keep reminding ourselves that these are verses that would have been profoundly familiar to Chagall. The idea of baptism is steeped in the Old Testament, it symbolises God’s salvation, from death to life. Sarah, the girl to whom the windows are dedicated, had been baptised as she had been brought up a Christian by her mother. She can clearly be seen in the water, floating away, on the bottom left of the window. Knowing Chagall’s fascination with the symbolism of baptism, as well as showing Sarah drowning, this may also symbolise her baptism, given she was a Christian. One may also speculate that she appears elsewhere in the painting, closer to Jesus. However, this is not by her own doing, but by a horse carrying her. Like Russian icons, Chagall’s art shows different scenes happening on the same panel. It could be argued that the figure on the horse is Sarah. The horse, symbolising happiness to Chagall, carries the figure towards a ladder leading to the cross to find the crucified yet triumphant Christ. However, Schmitt-Rehlinger suggests that it is Longinus, the Roman whom tradition claims thrusted his lance into Jesus’ side. This is plausible until one realises that the figure does not hold any lance. We merely have a figure on a horse. Whether it is Sarah or not, we see a potential trajectory for her. She lies dead in the water, in the context of baptism, she is dead in her sins, but through God’s great love for humanity, she is “made alive with Christ” despite being “dead in transgressions.” It is by grace that she is saved, through her faith manifested in her baptism. It is not her own doing, rather “it is the gift of God.” This can be seen in the fact that she is passive. It is the horse, symbolising joy, that carries the figure towards Jesus. Chagall’s window is a message of hope and salvation; it is not a sad piece. The mourning of the figures around Jesus is solved by him; he is serene, confident in his mission having been fulfilled. This is confirmed in Chagall wanting to make additional windows that point to the resurrection, which will be seen later.

Due to the deep blue of the windows in Tudeley, depending on the season and time of day, the light streaming into the chapel is completely different. One either as if one is underwater or in the sunlight. It is almost as if the church itself goes through death and renewal each day. It leads one to ask whether the viewer is to see themselves as in the ark, above the flood, or in the water. Chagall decided to complete all except two windows in a deep blue.

This deep blue also could relate to Chagall’s sense of being a wanderer, for although blue has for a long time represented the transcendent, from the romantic period, due to Novalis’ legend of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, the man in search of the blue flower symbolising the unreachable, blue came to represent melancholy. We see this in the blue period of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), for example, a painter with whom Chagall was close friends with. This blue period was instigated by Picasso’s friend Carlos Casagemas (1880-1901) committed suicide. Chagall came to Paris, where he first met Picasso, six years after the blue period had ended, it is therefore likely Chagall saw some of these works. Chagall, who saw himself as an eternal wanderer may therefore also have similarly used blue as a melancholic colour.

Moreover, we see that the windows deal with the Fall of humanity and leads right up to Christ’s crucifixion and Sarah’s drowning. However, this melancholy is resolved as we see in the final two windows of Tudeley that there is no blue, rather they are a bright yellow [Figs. 14 and 15]. These can be seen to symbolise the resurrection; however, this will be discussed later.

Ultimately, one must realise the effect that catastrophes can have on one’s worldview. Especially the shock that the Holocaust had on post-war Jews. It changed Chagall as after the war Jesus became the answer to world peace. Not just an archetype or a symbol for world peace, rather the real historic answer for the redemption of humanity. Chagall said that his entire art consists in a love for the Jewish people. This aspect of his art should also be seen in his general love for humanity and a biblical recognition that humanity could not find meaning without God. Indeed, in 1963, Chagall said that “the more boldly man liberates himself from his chains, the more man feels alone.” Chagall recognised that, as Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless till we find our rest in thee.” So, we must therefore see his art in light of that: a desire to provide a remedy for humanity. It is however important to remember that Chagall was not interested in labels. For example, he was not interested in being called a surrealist nor of being evangelised to a particular denomination of Christianity. He very much had an individualistic relationship with God. With this in mind, it is also interesting to note that Chagall’s East window came just after Vatican II, the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II affirmed that those “who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” may be saved. Chagall had heard the gospel through knowing the New Testament well and moving in Christian circles. However, the emphasis placed by Vatican II on conscience may have led Chagall to interpret it as there not being a need to belong to a church. Again, it is not known whether Chagall directly knew of Vatican II, but we do know that the council had an extremely profound effect on Catholicism and that Chagall was very close to numerous committed Catholics at the time. Could it therefore be that Chagall saw himself informally as a Christian Jew?

We have seen that the East Window may show Jesus as the solution to a broken world, but we also see Jesus to be salvific; the result is peace for humanity. Olives grow on the right side of the window, next to Jesus. This symbolises peace. On the left, very subtly, there is a dove. Chagall may be subtly telling the viewer that Christ will give them peace. Jesus looks invitingly out at the viewer. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” he says to us. We also see the Virgin Mary feeding the infant Jesus. She is peaceful, too. She understands what is happening. Even though the windows are chronological, suddenly the East window depicts everything, time stands still; what is being depicted is for all time, for all of humanity; it is a moment of transcendence. Interestingly, it seems unclear as to whether Chagall believed the resurrection to be physical or not. Traditional Jewish belief asserts that the resurrection will be physical. This is however not suggested at Tudeley. We can also see this not only in the separation between the physical realm of suffering, and the divine realm where Jesus is placed in the East window, but can also be seen in the final two windows of the church [Figs. 14 and 15], which are the only ones in yellow, a colour symbolising happiness, enlightenment, and joy. In these windows, we can see the wings of a butterfly, a small bird, and a red ass, a symbol used by Chagall to depict joy. There are no clearly discernible humans, there are only faint suggestions of faces. Only after Jesus’ sacrifice do we get this bright yellow light. However, it may be that this deliberately points to a period between death, and the eschaton. It may even point to the Kabbalistic belief in reincarnation of souls without bodies, until the resurrection of the dead. It was believed that the souls of sinners would wander between Heaven and Hell taking the forms of animals. There are faint traces of human and animal forms, however, this is probably specious. What seems more likely, understanding these two windows in their broader context is that this represents either a faint view of the eschaton, or, more likely a depiction of Paradise. This is different to the New Heaven and the New Earth. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Paradise is not the final destination; it is a beautiful resting place on the way there.” This Christian idea is steeped in Jewish thought. Indeed, when on the cross, Jesus the Jew said to the thief that on that same day they would be together in Paradise. The faint traces of faces may suggest just this, a resting place where souls wait for Jesus’ second coming, and therefore the coming Kingdom of the New Heaven and the New Earth. The windows therefore suggest salvation when we view them in a whole systematic biblical story. The first window in the church depicts the Fall of humanity, this leads to a period of deep blue melancholy. These were installed in 1974. This then leads to the East window of Jesus as saviour of humanity, the next four windows, flanking the East one, in the chancel remain a deep blue. These were eventually installed in 1985, after much controversy, because unlike the rest of the windows, these ones were Victorian. It may have also been because Chagall was not seen as a professing Christian. This may also show the general understanding of Chagall during his lifetime: a Jewish artist. The final two windows at the end of the story, mirroring the beginning of the story, are now a bright yellow. Jesus brings salvation, but Chagall does not make it clear whether this is physical. There is no better reason to explain why Chagall chose to depict the final windows in this story as yellow. It is not random, and they are to be seen as a whole story, with the rest of the works. Moreover, the idea of Jesus being the saviour of humanity, the Messiah, is far from unique to Tudeley; we see it in Chagall’s Tree of Life in Sarrebourg, which clearly depicts Chagall’s view of the eschaton: humanity surrounded by Jesus and his ministry. In this vast twelve-metre-high piece, we see Jesus’ life, his teaching and his Passion. The result is humanity in the tree of life, therefore in a restored and better Eden, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice. Chagall had depicted humanity cursed in the garden of paradise, as we saw in his Message Biblique. Now he depicts the final result after Jesus, humanity at peace, in harmony with God, in a physical kingdom. In Sarrebourg, Jesus has a halo, once again showing that Chagall evidently profoundly changed in his understanding of Jesus, from once saying it was too pious to give Jesus a halo, to then giving him one, clearly showing him to be the saviour of humanity. Chagall has moved from the Beauty of God, to the Goodness of God, demonstrated in him saying “I see the events of life and works of art through the wisdom of the Bible. Looking back to the East window, knowing this spiritual development, we can see this as an organised and profoundly theological collage. It is not accidental but rather, when seen in the context of his life, and his later works, it shows Chagall’s development in his understanding of Jesus’ identity. He wants to unite Judaism and Christianity together, to him they are inextricably bound. However, what leads him to believe that is his understanding of Jesus. He is not disingenuous when he depicts Jesus as the sacrificial victim on humanity’s behalf leading to their salvation; he is sincere.

In Chagall’s East window it is possible to see a testament to his spiritual journey. Although he had a profound interest in Jesus from early in his career, after much exploration of the figure of Jesus, conversations with Christian friends, meditations on the Bible through paint and poetry, we see that Chagall ended up epitomising what T.S. Eliot wrote upon converting to Christianity: “And the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” This is what we see in Chagall, he sees Jesus completely differently to how he first saw him. He had known of Jesus from a very early age, and yet now he sees.

Ultimately what may have attracted Chagall to Jesus is love. He was always attracted to the beauty of the Bible and spoke of Jesus as a figure of love. He had a love for Love, saying: “I love Love. Love helps me to find colour, […] colour is purity. […] I have often seen evil and cruelty.”

To Chagall, the answer to evil is love. He even went on to say in 1973 that “everything is possible provided it is based on Love.” This is a profoundly Christian thing to say, even if it is unconscious. Romans 8:28 says that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Ultimately, God who is Love by his very essence, makes all things possible. As Jesus says in Matthew 19:26, “with God all things are possible.” Regardless of whether Chagall said that all things are possible through love because of an understanding of Christianity, or whether it was an unconscious link, it remains a quotation steeped in centuries of Christian thought. To Chagall, love was central. He said that one should live “more out of love than out of hatred,” and he stood out amongst his contempories in the arts by counteracting the suffering in the world and contributing to its redemption through colour and beauty.

In 1951, referring to the Ten Commandments, Chagall said that “Moses’ tablets sometimes show that Love is the foundation of life, progress and creation.” After his rapprochement with his Christian friends in the 1940s we see a marked change in his attitude to the Bible, something that eventually is clearly seen in Tudeley’s East Window. It was only after meeting the Christian Maritains, that he became more vocal on the meaning of art. In 1973, he said that “paintings touch the depths of the soul […], art and love are intrinsically linked.” For Chagall, he wanted to represent Jesus as a figure who was “full of love.” Chagall recognised the power of Jesus as the central figure of agape love, the selfless, unconditional love seen on the cross. In Chagall’s East window, Jesus takes the punishment in our place, and yet what is truly emphasised is his glory, his loving eyes, looking out at the viewer. This is not a crucifixion from the Baroque era, where Christ’s suffering is emphasised. Rather, Jesus has taken the punishment, it is clear he is the one who conquers death, and therefore the one who can bring new life. When Chagall died in 1985, at the age of ninety-seven, he actively chose to be buried in a Christian graveyard. Jewish tradition would dictate that a Jew should be buried in a designated area, separate from goys, as it is holy ground, they are also often buried facing Jerusalem. Chagall is buried in the Christian graveyard in St-Paul-de-Vence, and he faces West. He is buried amongst Christians rather than in a designated area. How different this is to the young Chagall who painted Jewish graveyards, such as The Cemetery, in 1917. The world he grew up in would have obliged him to be buried in a Jewish graveyard, or in a designated section of a goy cemetery, a cemetery for non-Jews. Yet, when he died, much suggests that he was a spiritually transformed man.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Art

More Articles

Ravi Shah

Art Attaché Articles Guide

Write an Article today! Come see how easy it is for you to get involved. This guide will show you how to write your articles on Art Attache.

Read More »
Ravi Shah

The NEW Rise of the Curator

Emerging out of this global crisis is a new age for the consumption of Art culture. Covid-19 has hit the art industry hard both in sales and exhibitions however there is light at the end of the tunnel…

Read More »