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The crucifixion

The crucifixion
Francis N Souza (1924-2002)



Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.36

Commentary by Francis Hoyland

Our Lord lived, died and rose between the East and the West and it is good to have the view from the East. How does it differ from our view, if at all? Souza is, of course only one of many oriental artists each of whom are unique,so it is dangerous to read too much into his situation.

Goa, where he came from, is an ancient Catholic community possibly founded by St Thomas so his roots are as deep as our own. Despite this, it is the newness and freshness of de Souza's vision that strikes me.

Something in the best sense 'childlike' informs these three figures. The flatness of India miniature painting has been maintained, but instead of realising this flatness through fastidious layers of tempera it is achieved by applying masses of paint and then drawing into them. This drawing is really exciting - everywhere I look it takes hold of me and swings me about: the figure with the raised hand on the left has one line running down the inside of his arm and then across his tummy... how fast it goes!

I see the figure on the right of the picture as male and as being a prophet - like Baalam son of Beor or Isaiah. His four eyes see past, present, future and possibly eternity too!

One can imagine him saying 'the oracle of man with far seeing eyes, the oracle of the man who hears the word of God. He sees what Shaddai makes him see, receives the divine answer and his eyes are opened! He is clearly in a state of contemplation, his head bowed in prayer.

The other figure has his normal eyes closed and what look like four extra ones on his forehead. Personally I see him as another prophet as he does not feel like an apostle.

I wonder if these two figures could be Moses and Elijah who spoke with Our Lord about his coming Passion on the mountain of the Transfiguration?

These are rather wild surmises - but then why not make them? After all art is supposed to stimulate our imaginations. At any rate 'Elijah' is appropriately clothed in red and at the time of Our Lord's Passion, the tombs were opened and the bodies of many holy men rose from the dead. Elijah, of course, was already in heaven, body and soul.

The colour is made of simple slabs of blue, yellow, red and blue grey. White and black are both used to draw into these slabs and as with all good painting, the more one looks the better and the more articulate it gets.

The complimentary 'wobbles' of the two standing figures are drawn precisely as is the magnanimous self-giving of Christ. His eyes are wide open and He is very much in the 'now' of his redemptive achievement. I find the apparently improvised drawing entirely successful - what a splendid head of the God/Man with His crown of thorns and His halo!

This picture is a big yes to the appeal of Jesus.

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