Exhibitions: James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”

James Tissot: What Our Lord Saw from the Cross

In the most memorable, and even notorious, of Tissot’s biblical images, Christ looks out at the crowd of spectators arrayed before him: Mary Magdalene, in the immediate foreground, with her long red tresses swirling down her back, kneels at his feet, which are clearly visible at the bottom center of the composition. Beyond her, the Virgin Mary clutches her breast, while John the Evangelist looks up with hands clasped.

The artist here adopted the point of view of Christ himself. Few painters have conceived a composition this daring. In his audacity, however, Tissot remained true to his artistic vision for the series: ultimately, the image is an exercise in empathy. Its point is to give viewers, accustomed to looking at the event from the outside, a rare opportunity to imagine themselves in Christ’s place and consider his final thoughts and feelings as he gazed on the enemies and friends who were witnessing, or participating in, his death.