Classroom Activity: Edouard Manet's The Mocking of Christ, 1865
Discussion questions and activities for home and classroom about Manet's unconventional depiction of Jesus and his captors.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Education Department: Teacher Programs. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995, p. 101-02.
The Mocking of Christ, 1865
Edouard Manet (1832-1883)
Oil on canvas, 74 7/8 x 58 3/8 in. (190.3 x 148.3 cm)
Manet has created a powerful image by interpreting a traditional religious subject in a new way. Look carefully at this painting and describe what you see. If you did not know the title of the painting, how could you identify the central figure? What makes Manet’s interpretation of Christ appear so vulnerable and human? Study the other figures’ facial expressions and postures. Do they look like soldiers responsible for tormenting Christ? How does Manet’s overlapping arrangement of figures emphasize the subject of the painting and intensify its message? Why would he have used such a limited range of colors? Explain how his use of lights and darks (high contrast) adds drama to the scene. How do Manet’s brushstrokes capture the tension and immediacy of this moment in time?
1. The strong visual impact of the scene and psychological portrayal of the figures instantly draw the viewer into the painting. Write a short paragraph from the viewpoint of one of the people depicted here. It should consist of the person’s inner thoughts, not spoken words, although the thoughts expressed may be directed toward one of the other characters in the painting.
Alternative: Write a narrative describing the moment depicted, the ones preceding it, and/or those which follow.
2. Compare Manet’s unconventional religious image to Correggio’s Idealized Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, c.1515. Examine the paintings in terms of composition, technique, and message. How does each work represent its own time and place? To what extent are such religious subjects universal or timeless?
3. Although Manet’s work was often based on classical themes, his interpretation was modern, making analogies to contemporary life. These images questioned tradition, undermined values, and offended authority, for which he was censored and criticized. How are the values and traditions of today’s society reflected in the arts? Bring to class and discuss news articles regarding the censorship (or criticism) of artists exploring today’s controversial issues. Create a collage or drawing which challenges or satirizes a widely-accepted traditional American value.
4. Manet completed two notorious and controversial paintings in 1863, Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia. Although these are secular in content, find parallels to The Mocking of Christ in terms of technique and interpretation. Gain further insight into Manet’s work by studying his other paintings and making a list of qualities they share. How do these characteristics lead the way to the Impressionist movement which followed?