De Zurbarán’s depiction of the Crucifixion housed at the Art Institute of Chicago immediately captivates the viewer upon entrance to the gallery. Given the large scale of the painting, the viewer must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in, as one imagines onlookers at the time may have stood to look up at Jesus of Nazareth as he hung on the cross. In his naturalistic portrayal of the crucified Christ, de Zurbarán has given us an accurate rendering of the human form with head hanging limp and muscles visible under a white, draping cloth. Yet de Zurbarán has also idealized the event in some respects, leaving a few of the more gruesome details to our imagination as, rather than being stretched excruciatingly to his limit, Christ appears to hang almost weightless, his face revealing no pain. In a manner betraying the influence of Caravaggio, de Zurbarán has cast the left side of Christ in shadow, creating an intensely dark and dramatic scene even with all details of the background activity removed. By giving us this stark view of Jesus alone on the cross and enveloped in blackness, de Zurbarán forces us to ponder this image of Christ crucified in the context of our own emotions surrounding the event.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) is an encyclopedic art museum located in Chicago's Grant Park. It features a collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in its permanent collection. Its holdings also include American art, Old Masters, European and American decorative arts, Asian art, modern and contemporary art, and architecture and industrial and graphic design. In addition, it houses the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries.