Michaelangelo’s Crucifix

Michaelangelo CrucifixI came across this image on Wikipedia when I was doing some casual research on depictions of Christ’s crucifixion.  It was possibly done by Michaelangelo when the artist was a young man, but this is not universally accepted.  It may be a bit surprising to you for the same reason it was surprising to me – Christ is fully nude.  Most depictions of the crucifix I have seen do not depict Christ’s nudity, but provide some kind of “modesty cloth” so that the full effect of His nudity is not depicted.  Therefore I found this image awkward to look at, at first.

It is probable that Christ was naked on the cross.  His clothing was taken from Him, and when the disciples took him down from the cross, He was then wrapped in a cloth.  However, it is not a huge surprise that most artists and sculptures depicting Christ today (and through history) do not display Christ’s nudity.  Many of these crucifixes are displayed in churches (though probably not in Mormon ones!) and it seems rather degrading and offensive to depict Christ’s nakedness in a culture where this is seen as possibly too immodest.

However, there’s kind of a contradiction there, isn’t it?  The crucifixion was intended to be the most degrading and humiliating punishment that the Romans could inflict.  The violence and brutality of the punishment is displayed regularly, including a pained or sorrowful expression on Jesus’ face, blood coming down from numerous wounds, an emaciated form, nails in his hands and feet, etc.  However, the nakedness is part of the punishment, because it was considered humiliating then, just like it is now.  The violence has been so over-depicted in artistic forms that I think it is easier to look at.  We’re completely acclimated to it.  However, the nakedness seems “too humiliating for a depiction of the Savior.”  But if our artwork doesn’t fully depict the humiliation, then isn’t it missing an important aspect of the suffering that Christ went through?

Furthermore, the humiliation is part of the point, theologically speaking, too.  Christ had to “condescend” from his Heavenly throne to participate fully in humanity.  His punishment from the evil politicians and mobs at the time was cruel and degrading – but so is life.  Jesus sanctified that humiliation and suffering, so that when we feel the same way, we can be assured that God has first-hand experience with it.

I’m not arguing that we should change all our artwork, or that artists should change the way they depict the crucifixion in the future.  Nevertheless, I do think it is interesting that a piece of artwork that depicts more fully the actual degradation that Christ went through is too difficult for many modern people to look at.  We’re fine with the violence, but the nakedness is too awkward and uncomfortable.