Monday, March 20, 2017

Despised and Rejected of Men


This is a painting by Sigismund Goetze (1866-1939) entitled “Despised and Rejected of Men”, a phrase taken from the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Goetze is classified as an English Victorian Painter. He was a devout Anglican and in this particular scene he superimposes his English society on the Suffering Christ. In the painting Christ is tied to a pillar about to be scourged, but the pillar is an altar of an ancient pagan shrine and the people moving about are in a Greek Temple. In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 17, St. Paul is preaching the Gospel to the people of Athens. There he makes reference to an altar dedicated to “THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Although the Athenians meant it to be an insurance against slighting any overlooked deities in their many-gods world-view, St. Paul used it as an opening to speak about the one true God whom they had hitherto not known by name. Here in Goetze’s painting, Christ chained to an altar of the Unknown God is a cruel irony. Although England has been Christian for centuries, Christ remains largely unknown its present generation. The throngs are too caught up in their own egotism to notice Him.

Goetze depicts several types familiar to late-Victorian society. In the left-hand corner there is the lady of fashion flirting shamelessly with her escort. Behind them is the scientist, so infatuated with his bubbling test-tube that he is blind to Christ. Above him is the sports-enthusiast, lost in the horse-racing pages. At the base of the altar huddles a poor mother with a sickly child. Turned in on herself by misery, she also has her back to Christ. To the right, a ragamuffin newsboy hawks the latest tabloid scandal sheet. A pompous cleric walks along, eyes straight ahead. Behind the cleric is a scheming businessman whose god is money. Next to him a corrupt judge is pouring over his lawbooks. In the far background a demagogic politician is haranguing the crowd. Only the nurse looks upon Christ, and reacts with sorrow and compassion.

This religious painting is supposed to make people think: am I not also somewhere in that passing crowd? We could easily imagine an updated version of this painting with very recognizable types of contemporary American society. Few enough there are who recognize Our Lord Jesus Christ for who He is and try to shape their lives accordingly. (commentary by: Fr. Higgins, http://miol.cx/passiontide/).

Here is another explanation of the painting by Sister Mary Joseph Calore:
The following description captures the artist's intent quite well.

At the exhibition of the Royal Academy, in London, the great canvas by Sigismund Goetze, entitled “Despised and Rejected of Men,” (right) has created an artistic sensation. It is declared to be a “powerful and terribly realistic presentment of Christ.” in a modern setting, and is described by a writer in The Christian Commonwealth (London), as follows:

In the center of the canvas is the Christ, standing on a pedestal, bound with ropes, while on either side passes the heedless crowd. A prominent figure is a richly vested priest, proudly conscious of the perfection of the ritual with which he is starving his higher life. Over the shoulder of the priest looks a stern-faced divine of a very different type. Bible in hand, he turns to look at the gospel has missed its spirit,and is as far astray as the priest whose ceremonial is to him anathema. The startled look on the face of the hospital nurse in the foreground is very realistic; so is the absorption of the man of science, so intent on the contents of his test-tube that he had not a glance for the Christ at his side. One of the most striking figures is that of the thoughtless beauty hurring from one scene of pleasure to another; and spurning the sweet-faced little ragged child who is offering a bunch of violets. In rejecting the plea of the child who knows that the proud woman is rejecting the Christ who has identified himself forever with the least of these little ones. The only person in the whole picture who has found time to pause is the mother seated on the steps of the pedestal with her baby in her arms, and we can not but feel that when she has ministered to the wants of her child she will spare a moment for the lover of little children who is so close to her. In the background stands an angel with bowed head, holding the cup which the world He loved to the death is still compelling the Christ to drink, while a cloud of angel faces look down upon the scene with wonder. As the visitor turns away he is haunted with the music of Stainer’s “Crucifixion,” “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” (http://eastereggcrafts.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-rejected-christ-by-goetze.html)

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