B149_Edvard Munch_Golgotha_1900_ART69997.jpg

Edvard Munch

Golgotha, 1900, Oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm, Munchmuseet, Oslo, © The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY HIP / Art Resource, NY

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Commentary by

My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious … From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born (Munch, in Prideaux 2005: 2).

The most celebrated of Norwegian artists, Edvard Munch, grew up in a strongly Lutheran Pietist household. He endured stark childhood bereavements which had lasting effects on his life and work. His mother died in 1868 and his favourite sister in 1877.

In Golgotha, Christ on the cross, rendered as a simple naked boy-like figure, is depicted in bright light and lifted clear of the crowd, thus already alluding to his resurrection. Strikingly, the crowd in the background appears to strain towards the cross, while in the foreground there are seven figures, five of them with their backs to Christ and with mocking expressions that seem to suggest evil intent. The dark background alludes forbiddingly to the darkness that fell over the land during Christ’s suffering and death.

The painting may hint at something of the artist’s turbulent personal life in this period. It has been suggested that the seven figures in the foreground symbolize the seven deadly sins with the central figure identified as that of the poet Stanisław Przbyszewski, personifying jealousy. Munch developed a friendship, and possibly had an affair, with Przbyszewski’s Norwegian wife, Dagny Juel Przybyszewska, before she married the poet. The artist painted several images entitled Jealousy in which Przbyszewski features prominently.

Jesus’s hearers took up stones to stone him (John 10:31) as he spoke of his calling. The figure of Christ may also represent Munch himself—the artist as outsider of society, and possibly even as outsider of the Church in which he had been brought up—identifying with Jesus’s suffering and sense of marginalization.

 

References

Prideaux, Sue. 2005. Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream (New Haven: Yale University Press)