The painting is of Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s very apparent, but also quite jarring in its differences from the iconography of European Christianity in the 20th century. Marc Chagall, the Jewish painter, deliberately estranged and defamiliarized the painting’s subject. The cross on which he is crucified does not have a top and is shaped more like a “T” (as some scholars say many crucifixes were). Christ himself is wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl. This is not Jesus as Christian messiah we are seeing suffer, but Jesus as Jew.
White Crucifixion was painted by Chagall in 1938. Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish pogrom that was officially sanctioned by Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels, had taken place just prior to his starting the painting. It was a plea for the world to acknowledge and pay attention to what was being done to Europe’s Jews at the time.Read more