Maurice Denis
Calvary

Calvary, also called Road to Calvary
Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Calvary, also called Road to Calvary
November 1889
Oil on canvas
H. 41; W. 32.5 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Le Calvaire, also called La Montée au calvaire [Calvary, also called Road to Calvary]


Maurice Denis painted Calvary in November 1889. At the time he was reading Sagesse, a collection of poems by Verlaine. Denis' carving illustrated the first poem. The painting is the plastic equivalent of Verlaine's poetic style which the painter appreciated for its simplicity, naivety and the "mysterious relationships between things and people". The composition is carried by a rising diagonal formed by the group of women and the upright of the Cross. The women have lost all individuality and melt into an extremely simplified black mass, counterbalanced by the other dark mass of Roman soldiers in the background. Even Christ, brought to his knees by the weight of the Cross and embraced by a Holy Woman, is painted as a silhouette, in flat colour with a dark outline. Denis has given the scene great decorative unity and, as in Verlaine's poem, it becomes the expression of universal grief and compassion.




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