Lehrender Christ

  • 1931
  • Ernst Barlach
  • cast bronze
  • 87,5 x 40,3 x 36,4 cm
  • Location not on view.
  • Acquired in 1953
  • Inventory number 19

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This bronze sculpture by Ernst Barlach represents a slightly stylized figure of Christ. The sculpture has a strong, enclosed design and only the hands protrude slightly. There are a few folds in the clothes, although these mean that the figure under them can barely be felt. Christ is presented in a seated position, but it is not possible to see what he is sitting on. The seat and the clothes form a whole. The hair and beard are shown with a few coarse locks. The eyes are open but the iris and pupil are not visible. The palms of the hands are turned up. The figure, particularly the lower part of the clothing, reveals grooves and scratches which must have been present in the mould from which the bronze was cast.

Barlach’s work is expressionist. In about 1910, his statues became highly emotionally charged. This was largely the result of the subject: the fears and suffering of the underprivileged, such as farmers, workers or beggars in Germany, before and during the First World War. In addition, Barlach opted for religious motifs. In both these subjects he expressed a desire for redemption. The way in which he represented people underlined the emotional character of the work. However, the clothes almost entirely conceal the figures, which means that the emphasis is more on the their emotions than on their physical quality. The concealing clothes also meant that Barlach’s figures were compact. The number of works based on medieval, particularly Christian motifs increased from the 1920s.

In 1907 Barlach started to make wood sculptures and from then on, wood continued to be his favourite material. He often made plaster or clay models as the sketches for his wooden sculptures. Subsequently, bronze casts were made of these models. However, the fact that Barlach did not “think” in bronze can often be seen from his sculptures, as in the 'Lehrender Christ'. The way in which he represented the hair and beard reveals similarities to the way wood is carved. When he worked the surface, he made more use of the possibilities of the material of the model than of the result in bronze.

Queer perspective

Beyond the religious meaning of the depiction of a holy figure, what we primarily see is the representation of a long-haired, bearded man wearing a dress. It is interesting to note that when clothing and long hair are associated with a biblical figure, they emphasize holiness rather than femininity. Even nowadays, though, many people regard dresses and long hair as feminine attributes and that, accordingly, they only suit women. If God dresses this way, why should you be forbidden to do so?

%>Tags: crossdressing, fluidity, genderqueer

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