Restoration and the promise of new life

Plate 28 : “Celui qui croit en moi, fut-il mort, vivra” John 11:25

Having recently celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the liturgical calendar, these paintings by Georges Rouault speak to me as a Christian with a message of hope and newfound life. It is inspiring and refreshing in my opinion to find an artist (especially a French one) that is comfortable with using his art to express that which he believes about the message of hope that God brings. It is still further admirable that he manages to use his art as a way to convey that message to a greater audience (one that perhaps finds long lost hope in his works) in the midst of such a tragic period or war and crisis in the 20th century. Death is certainly all around throughout Europe in the midst of the World Wars as can be seen depicted in Rouault’s Plate 28.  This piece contains skulls surrounding what seems to be an underground burial grave with a cross on the tombstone. This imagery of death with skulls, tombs, and purposefully selected black and white colors plays well into Rouault’s recurring message within his artwork that in the midst of so much death and suffering, Jesus is the answer as demonstrated by the centrality and importance of the cross in the picture that restores life and meaning when there seems to be none left in this world. This work titled after the Biblical verses in John 11:25 “Celui qui croit en moi, fut-il mort, vivra” is a clear attestation to the hope of long lost life that Rouault finds in Jesus Christ and his passion which he endured in order to restore humankind from an eternal damnation and death. Rouault, by juxtaposing the two main subjects in his painting (the skulls and the cross on the tomb), brings about a feeling of inspiration and/or relief for us as a viewer when seeing the cross as a symbol of Jesus at the focus and center of the work while death and the skulls representing it are cast off to the side. This painting, inspired by the story of the Death of Lazarus in the book of John is similar to the story of Lazarus in that it emphasizes the promise of restored life as long as you believe in Jesus and follow him. This inspiring message is one that I choose to live by when believing that Jesus died for the sinners of the world and that through the wounds he suffered from, he cured ours as an imperfect race. By climbing with Rouault up the steps to the tomb displaying Jesus’ cross in his piece, we too make a leap of faith by choosing to seek Jesus as our light, our life, and our hope with the goal of finding meaning and renewed inspiration.

Plate 58: “ C’est par ses meurtrissures que nous sommes guéris / It is through his wounds that we are healed (C&R. 111b)

In this painting by Rouault, I also found the message of restoration of life to humanity through Jesus’ resurrection. This “portrait” of Jesus Christ is in fact a representation of what the cloth given to him by Veronica during his crucifixion would have looked like after he wiped away his bloody face. The offering of Veronica’s linen cloth to Jesus is a common story that emphasizes the pious followers of Jesus who recognized his sacrifice and wished to help him as he lived out his destiny as the martyr for our salvation. This work by Rouault is strange in that it depicts Jesus’ entire head rather than a silhouette,  which would have been more likely to be what was imprinted upon wiping his face. Yet, Rouault wishes to display in his work, the thorny crown and the sad, closed eyes with blood trickling down Jesus’ forehead not to be accurate in what Veronica’s linen would have looked like but rather to emphasize the mark and miracle that Jesus leaves us with through the suffering he endured as seen by his wounds. Therefore, the title of this plate accurately demonstrates the message that Rouault wishes to convey which is one of eternal gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice and pain, which restores humanity which in Rouault’s time, suffers what seem to be irreparable wounds.

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