Franz Von Stuck's painting depicts Christ's crucifixion as if it were an horrific, surreal spectacle. Christ's body, fastened to the cross, is elevated on a sort of stage as a ghoulish mob looks on from below, in some of whom there are shocked and awed expressions on their blurred faces. Also on this stage are the apostles whose backs face the viewer as they face the spectacle of the crucified Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary, seems to have fainted from the ordeal and draws on the support of two saints to keep herself from falling. Thus, throughout the canvas Christ is surrounded by viewers. The sign above Christ's head furthers the sense of spectacle and distinguishes him from two other writhing figures on his either side. The sun in the corner of the picture looks like a ring of fire and casts a fiery red glow onto the background from which the ivory white of the Son of Man's body stands in relief.

The composition of the painting puts the viewer on the same plane as Christ and the apostles, demarcated from the indistinguishable mass of the crowd below. This suggests that Von Stuck wants the viewer to identify with the followers of Christ as opposed to the entirely different godless class of people below who are there for the show, as it were. The blood red background gives the crucifixion a violent and unnatural mood, again encouraging the viewer to see the spectacle as the 'awareness of the flesh coming together with the awareness of the eternal' (to use the language of Leo Spitzer) — as an event that is worldly but also steeped in symbolic meaning. Inseparable from this, and captured brilliantly by the painting, is the tension between involvement and seperateness that constitutes the spectacle.

Questions

1. How does this painting compare to Holman Hunt's The Shadow of Death in terms of how the symbolic meaning is registered? What sort of narrative does it form in terms of the evolving artistic styles between the times the two works were painted?

2. What do you think was the point of placing Christ in the middle of two other bound up figures who somewhat share his predicament?

3. What is the effect of the sign above Christ's head which diminishes the shape of the cross?

4. The ARC describes Von Stuck's painting as sculptural rather than pictorial. How does this inform Crucifixion?

5. Is colour symbolism used anywhere else in the painting?


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Last modified 4 December 2006