Jesus Mocked by Soldiers

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Jesus Mocked by Soldiers, Edouard Manet, 1865

The hanging of Olympia in the 1863 Paris Salon and its surrounding controversy has become one of the most famous incidents in all of art history and is considered by many to be a foundational moment for later avant-garde movements such as Impressionism, which sought to break the mold of artistic expression at their time. However, many forget the painting, almost equally reviled in its time, which hung next to the famous courtesan. Jesus Moqué par les Soldats, or Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, was painted around the same time as Olympia. Manet also won its entry to the 1865 Salon, and it hung next to Olympia around eye level in room. During the exhibition, people struggled to crowd like sardines into the chamber to get a glimpse at the two paintings. They were the laughing stock of Paris. The situation grew so bad that the Salon’s directors, partially out of pity for Manet and partially out of a desire to get people to look at the rest of the artwork, moved the two paintings to an inconspicuous position high above a doorway where they could do no more harm.

The painting itself is not quite the masterpiece that Olympia was, but it stands alone as a nice early work. Jesus sits plaintively on a chair, surrounded by the cruel soldiers of the Empire. He stares upward. Manet draws his body rather unusually. Jesus is often depicted in pain, of course, but he is generally shown to be a physically strong, robust man. Here, he seems small. It seems as though the soldiers have won. Manet’s painting generated quite a bit of controversy for depicting Jesus as completely human. His typically minimalist style shines through here, and in a way similar to Olympia he makes the men seem grimy. There’s not a lot of hope in this painting. I think that’s why it created such a stir. Jesus doesn’t seem like the usual beacon of hope and dignity. He kind of seems like he’s already dead.

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