Sunday, March 22, 2015

Palm/Passion Sunday: Triumphal?

Plenty of artists have painted the events of what Christians call Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday). There is usually some kind of urban architectural background. There are throngs of people. There is a donkey. The atmosphere is festive, the air filled with excitement.

Belgian artist James Ensor painted all those things: a city, a crowd, Jesus riding a donkey. But this isn't exactly what you might be used to seeing. Perhaps the skeleton wearing the top hat is different. Perhaps it's the clowns wearing masks. Maybe the oddest thing is the "Viva La Sociale" banner stretched across the roadway. Maybe it's that Jesus is barely distinguishable among the crowd.
Painting in the collection of the Getty Museum:
The painting is titled Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889. James Ensor painted the wall-sized work (slightly larger than 8' x 14') in 1888. In this work, Christ appears to be in the middle of a carnival parade. Characters abound, activity is everywhere, color riots. And no one appears to be giving Jesus any consideration.
Ensor probably saw himself a little bit like Jesus in this picture - alone in the middle of a crowd. Ensor was a founding member of Les XX (Les Vingt), but this painting was deemed too radical when Ensor submitted it to an exhibition. His style - quite modern in thought - was wildly different from the softer landscapes of the French Impressionists that had been occupying the leading edge of avant-garde art. His colors are much sharper than most of the Impressionists, and where they (and even Seurat and the Neo-Impressionists) used dots and dabs of color, Ensor appears to have broadly slathered on the paint with a palette knife. Undeterred by the lack of acceptance by the wider art community, Ensor was committed to the painting, displaying it prominently in his residence.

How might our observance of Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday be different this year, if we take our lead from this painting? What might we watch for? What might we do differently? What might we work to avoid?

Where did Jesus enter Jerusalem, according to tradition? See the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page to find out. 

For Psalm 118:19-29, click here
For Luke 19:28-40, click here
For Matthew 21:1-11, click here.

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