About this artwork
Throughout his career, Édouard Manet managed to shock and confound the public with his bold technique and unorthodox approach to subject matter. The most startling feature of his great religious composition Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers is that it was painted at all. After the advent of the Realist movement in earlier nineteenth-century French painting, grounded in the here and now, avant-garde artists in France did not pursue religious themes. Yet, while Manet was most certainly a painter of secular subjects—indeed, he was particularly urbane in his themes and lifestyle—he was also interested in the biblical narratives that had compelled artists for many centuries. It is likely that there was a connection between this interest and the popular 1863 biography Vie de Jésus (Life of Jesus) by the French philosopher and historian Joseph-Ernest Renan, a controversial work that emphasizes Christ’s humanity.
In this painting, Manet portrayed Jesus as very human and vulnerable by presenting him frontally; by making him seem passive, almost limp; and by surrounding him with rather gruff characters. The canvas’s visible brushstrokes and its almost monochromatic tonality create an insistent sense of materiality that further evokes a palpable, unidealized Christ. The work depicts the moment when Jesus’s captors mock the “King of the Jews” by crowning him with thorns and covering him with a robe. Although, according to the Gospel story, this taunting was followed by beatings, Manet’s soldiers appear ambivalent as they surround the pale, denuded figure. In these ways Manet managed to present a traditional subject in a contemporary, challenging light.
- Édouard Manet
- Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers
- Oil on canvas
- Inscribed at lower right: Manet
- 74 7/8 × 58 3/8 in. (190.8 × 148.3 cm)
- Gift of James Deering