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The Presence of Religion in Marc Chagall Paintings

Born in 1887, Marc Chagall was a Russian, Jewish painter who traveled around the world transferring his many experiences on to canvas. His work was greatly influenced by his travels, and many of his paintings draw on religion, including Christianity. Throughout his career, different life-changing events played a crucial role on his style of painting, memorable times such as his struggles in Russia, the death of his first wife Bella, and his various encounters with other religions.

Marc Chagall gathered much of his inspiration from Belarusian folk-life, and from biblical themes reflecting his Jewish heritage. In the 1960s and 1970s, he involved himself in large-scale projects concerning public spaces and important civic and religious buildings from Israel to the United States.

Influenced by the Bible
Many of Marc Chagall’s paintings are inspired by images of the Hassidic world as well as themes from the Bible. His fascination with the ‘holy book’ culminated in a series of over 100 etchings illustrating biblical images, many of which incorporate elements from Jewish folklore and religious life in his native village. In 1930, Chagall was commissioned to create illustrations of the Bible on a gigantic scale. He visited Israel for inspiration with regards to Moses, Abraham, and Jesus. In “The Dream of Jacob” and “Abraham Approaching Sodom with Three Angels”, the wings of the angels extend nearly from head to toe, affirming the potential to soar – typical of many Chagall religious figures.

Considering his Jewish background, it is speculated that Chagall had some difficulty depicting Jesus and the crucifixion. In those canvases, the setting assumes Jesus as an observant Jew. Although Jesus is a traditional icon of the Christian religion, Chagall’s crucifixions are interpreted as a symbol of martyrdom everywhere, particularly those who were victims of the Holocaust.

The White and Yellow Crucifixions
“The White Crucifixion” abounds in rich, intriguing detail. Some interpretations suggest that the painting is a denunciation of the Stalin regime, the Nazi Holocaust, and all oppression of Jews. The “White Crucifixion” is a dreadful scene that may have echoed what Chagall saw in the world at the time of this painting. The same type of Jewish, non-Messianic Jesus is presented in “The Yellow Crucifixion.”

Throughout his career, Marc Chagall often portrayed religion, particularly Jewish and Christian. “I and the Village” can be interpreted as Moses and his flock, although it is largely based on Chagall’s childhood in Belarus. His use of vivid colors reflects his happiness and optimism. Regardless of the numerous interpretations that Chagall’s paintings have endured, his art remains intriguing and timeless. Marc Chagall died on March 28, 1985.


About the Author
Julie Gladstone is an aspiring artist and avid Marc Chagall fan. She provides content for the Marc Chagall Paintings website.


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