If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.
- Marc Chagall
The Artist with Yellow Christ, 1938
Chagall was a Jewish painter, but during WW2 he included the figure of Jesus over and over in his work, including the above painting: The Artist with Yellow Christ, 1938.
Chagall has painted a Jewish Jesus; his loincloth appears to be a Jewish prayer shawl with its two blue stripes. The old Jewish man in the background connects the torture of Jesus with the torture of the Jews happening as the painting was being executed.
The simple hieroglyph of the artist's hand held to his head conveys his struggle to understand how the human mind is capable of such doubleness: a Europe that was able to worship one Jew while it murdered millions of others. With just two horizontal lines Chagall transforms a simple crucifixion scene into a reflection on the Holocaust.
It is Chagall's genius that he was able to communicate so profoundly with such simplicity. No wonder he is one of the best loved Moderns.
The Jewish Museum of New York is currently showing several of these Christ paintings as part of the exhibition Chagall, love war exile (until February 2, 2014).