facing the cross: thursday of holy week

"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso

“The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso

I know it doesn’t look like a crucifixion scene, but take a moment and explore Pablo Picasso’s famous The Old Guitarist from his Blue Period (1901-04). Painted in 1903 shortly after the suicide of a close friend, The Old Guitarist pays homage to the poor and downtrodden, the outcasts of society. The 22 year old Picasso was working in Barcelona, and one can see the influence of the great Spanish master El Greco in the exaggerated, elongated figure.  Picasso paints in limited blue hues, creating a dreamlike setting that evokes misery and lament. The old man is bent over in a distorted way, sightless, all the while grasping the guitar with intimacy. It is an image of human suffering, yet there is a peaceful repose to the figure.

The Old Guitarist has long been a favorite painting of mine. The painting is on display in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum audio guide for the piece mentions in passing the similarities the painting has with classical depictions of the body of Christ being taken down from the cross, particularly, the inclined head and eyes closed. While I was visiting Chicago in October 2014 the Art Institute hosted an exhibition of Byzantine Art, Heaven and Earth: Art of the ByzantiumOne of the major pieces of the exhibition was a two-sided processional piece with The Man of Sorrows icon.  Christ is depicted with a plaintive beauty. Seeing the two pieces in the same afternoon offered me the opportunity to consider Picasso’s painting in a new light.

Man of Sorrows, 12th C. Byzantine Museum, Kastoria

Note the similarly inclined head, the closed eyes and the gentle demeanor. Picasso’s painting, while not explicitly a deposition from the cross, evokes a similar, grieving tone. There is sorrow and suffering in both, yet a quiet dignity remains.

With this connection in mind, spend some time in contemplation of The Old Guitarist. Are there connections among this painting and other pieces of the crucifixion with which you are familiar? How does relating the piece to the crucifixion alter your reactions to the painting? You may also wish to use the visio divina guidelines I described in Monday’s post.

To see more artistic images of the crucifixion, take a look at my Pinterest board, Crosses, Crucifixes & Crucifixion Scenes.


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