One of the peak moments of Catholic religious imagery is associated with the crucifixion of Christ. That moment in which, according to the Gospels, the darkness breaks through and Jesus entrusts his soul to God. Throughout the History of Art, this moment of tension and pathos has often been represented, because this and no other is the central theme of the Christian religion and also of the Eucharist.
Francisco Pradilla, the painter who took advantage of the ‘madness’ of Queen Juana to succeed
The suffering of Jesus on the cross refers to the most important doctrinal aspects of theology christian such as atonement for sins, salvation, and death and resurrection. The most interesting thing about this symbolic theme of the crucifixion is that, associated with men, it grants power and distinction: these are the paradigmatic cases of Jesus of Nazareth, Saint Peter, who was crucified upside down in Rome, according to the apocryphal gospels, and Saint Andrew who was martyred on a cross in the shape of blades.
It is really interesting to review those same representations that emerged in the art world but changing the gender of the represented subject. When the crucified is a woman, it is inevitable to feel how the symbology used stigmatizes and points to perversion for the mere fact of being a woman. Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia by Bernat Martorell, painted in the mid-15th century, marks the iconographic trend of the so-called crucified. A woman tied or nailed to a cross, scantily clad, paraded before an audience that condemns her.
Santa Eulalia and those who succeed her will be represented with arms wide open, in an attitude of surrender and submission, and often naked or semi-naked as if the promiscuity of the condemned woman were always insinuated. In the XIX century, crucified woman by Louis-Joseph-Raphaël Collin continues this same type of representation of a bleeding naked woman crucified, which instead of appealing to compassion seems to stigmatize her.
In this sense, we can highlight several canvases by Félicien Rops, both in The temptation of San Antonio like in the satanic, the Belgian painter and engraver depicts femme fatales on the cross or on the brink of the cross. They are rather sin and not penitents who are going to atone for their sins. Their bodies appear provocative, the forms do not insinuate sensuality, but rather underpin and highlight it. In The temptation of San Antonio,as the art critic Avelina Lésper indicates, “the woman usurps the place of faith, the cross stands on the prie-dieu of San Antonio. She laughs amused”. The image is no longer religious, Rops plunges the viewer into the world of torture and pain, but also of crime and pleasure. The woman symbolizes provocation and depravity, and she deserves to be punished. Her punishment, far from bringing her closer to sainthood, will emphasize her sexual impudence.
the satanic by Rops is the one that is most striking due to its explicitness: it shows a crucified man who occupies the upper part of the image. A red background gives the scene a macabre and violent tone. The erect penis and testicles of the man are supported by the naked body of a woman. Her posture with her outstretched arms holding a black cloak parallel to her horizontal plank seems to cross her as well. The scene highlights the lewdness of the woman and, furthermore, points to her as guilty of the man’s sin. Moonlight by Albert von Keller also leans towards eroticism and forbidden pleasures. The represented woman is on a cross but her whole body seems to be foreshortened, as if twisting towards the viewer. Her head lolling on her arm, as well as her bound hand hanging off her, seem to be part of a sadomasochism scene rather than a crucifixion scene. In both Keller and Rops, women seem crucified to be punished for their sexual desires. These crucifixions seem to be the last phase of a hypnosis or psychoanalysis session, so in vogue at the time, in which the woman’s sexual desire is described as abnormal. The cross, therefore, does not cleanse her souls: it clouds them even more.
In the 19th century, Gabriel von Max represented in The martyrdom of Saint Julia of Carthage a Christian martyr condemned to die on the cross. In the canvas, the saint appears nailed to the cross with her arms outstretched. She is perhaps one of the few exceptions in which the painted woman appears fully clothed. A pleated white robe covers her body and she leaves only her arms exposed. Not even her feet are bare.
In recent years, many representations that have emerged on television or from pop culture have used the crucifixion of Jesus as a metaphor for the suffering endured by women throughout history. Madonna has often used her cross as a symbol of liberation for women in her shows. In the video clip of Like a Prayer , ended up in a field full of burning crosses and did it to denounce the racism of the Ku Klux Klan. on the tour Confessions of the year 2006, the artist staged her own crucifixion and was oblivious to the criticism of the most conservative press and the Vatican, which then described her as blasphemous.
The crucifixion was also used as a method of protest by Femen activists in an act against the patriarchal system at Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv in 2010. Since the cross was introduced as part of Christian symbology, it which was a form of punishment for criminals since ancient Rome, applied to men becomes a sanctified and devotional image. However, if that cross contains the body of a woman, the image is blasphemous, offensive or depraved.