Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Sutherland’s “Crucifixion” – Good Liturgical Art?

August 27th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

"The Crucifixion" by Graham Sutherland, 1946*

Which subjects are appropriate for chancel images?

That’s an interesting question to me. (I hope it’s also an interesting question for you!) It’s an easier question to answer for Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox than it is for us. Our Western tradition has not developed as clear a focus as to appropriate subjects and styles. Controversy swirled around many liturgical works unveiled in the Church’s past. But addressing the question helps us to think about our faith and the liturgical art that is meant to help communicate it. And so, it’s interesting to put before you -the readers- examples to get your reactions.

The previous example (The Great Banquet) elicited a little hesitation (except for Gen). I personally don’t think it passes muster but I’m unable to settle on reasons why. I keep going back and forth on it in a “Yes, but…” conversation with myself.

Anyway, here is another work for you to consider: Graham Sutherland’s The Crucifixion which he completed in 1946. Sutherland converted to Catholicism in 1926 and was deeply religious until his death in 1980. He worked as a war artist during the Second World War depicting mining, industry, and bomb damage.

Sutherland painted numerous crucifixion scenes. This one hangs in the south transept of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Northampton, England. Many of you may already be familiar with it or with several other versions of its composition.

I won’t go into any analysis or description of the painting for fear I may prejudice your reactions.

In your opinion is this an appropriate liturgical work of art for display in the chancel over the altar in a Catholic church? Would it contribute to, and complement, the Liturgy in an appropriately meaningful way? Does it reinforce Catholic doctrine? Why or why not?

A REQUEST: Can you recommend a liturgical work of art from one of our Diocese of Rochester churches that you think is particularly good –or bad? Let’s limit your nominations to paintings, sculptures, mosaics, or windows. Send me a brief description (or picture, if you have one) and information on its location. Your identity will not be revealed. Send me an email: You can nominate in the Comment Box if you wish.

*Picture Source

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5 Responses to “Sutherland’s “Crucifixion” – Good Liturgical Art?”

  1. Nerina says:

    I don’t know, Bernie. My first reaction is one of…revulsion? Of course, it is an image of our crucified Lord, so that in itself stirs strong emotions. (As an aside, my church has a resurrected Jesus over the altar, so I’m always happy to see a crucified image when I can because it reminds me that Christ is there in our own personal suffering). Anyway, this painting lacks something for me. Perhaps because it seems so final. There is no hint of what is to come next. It is dark. But I’m trying to remember the framework within which the artist worked (I’m sure his experiences in WWII influence his pieces). One thing that strikes me is the way Christ’s pectoral muscles are bathed in light, yet his abdominal cavity is receded in darkness. It almost looks like a mask with Christ’s nipples appearing like eyes. Does that sound dumb? It certainly is startling and I could think about it for a long time. As to the question “does it serve the Liturgy?” I think it’s close. It certainly doesn’t contradict doctrine, but it doesn’t tell the whole story either (and maybe that wasn’t the artist’s intent).

  2. Jenny Thorpe says:

    The photograph of Sutherland’s Crucifixion was taken by myself, in my Parish Church. I am pleased that you think it of high enough quality to include in your website, but would have appreciated being asked first! I would have beeen honoured to have given permission. With regards to the painting- I think it is wonderful, and very moving.

  3. Bernie says:

    Jenny Thorpe: Thank you for your comment. I’m very sorry for the oversight. I make it a point to seek permission for using an image and to at least credit images whenever I can’t contact the photographer. Note that a picture credit is made for the other image in the post. For some reason I failed to do so in the case of your photograph. Please accept my apology.

  4. Bernie says:

    Jenny Thorpe: I just noticed that yours is the image that was cedited. Authors of Flickr images are very easy to contact -I do so on many times- so I have no explanation as to why I did not contact you. Again, my apologies!

  5. Jenny Thorpe says:

    Apology accepted.

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