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Christine LenahanFebruary 15, 2024
In this photo released by the Consejo de Hermandades de Sevilla on Friday Feb. 2, 2014, the Seville 2024 poster for the religious Easter Holy Week is pictured in this hand out photo. (Consejo de Hermandades de Sevilla via AP)

A Holy Week poster depicting a young, fresh-faced Jesus in a loincloth has sparked controversy in Seville, Spain, with many conservatives and Christians calling the work “homoerotic” and “inappropriate.”

Unveiled on Jan. 27, 2024, and designed by renowned Spanish artist Salustiano García, the image of Christ against a bright red background was intended to invite people to church during the Easter season. García’s painting was commissioned by the Council of Brotherhoods, a group composed of Christian laity and clergy that organizes the Easter week events in Seville.

The poster has garnered the attention of over 23,000 petition signers who are calling for it to be withdrawn. The petition states that the poster “in no way represents the principles and values of Holy Week.” So far, the General Council of Brotherhoods has ignored the calls to replace the poster before Holy Week.

The Spanish Institute of Social Policy called the poster “effeminate and sexualized.” Javier Navarro, the president of the far-right Sevillian political party Vox, said the image “sought provocation” instead of “encouraging faithful participation in Seville's Holy Week.”

But José Luis Sanz, the mayor of Seville who attended the unveiling event, said in an interview with The Associated Press: “I like the poster…. Some posters are riskier, some more classical, some are more daring.”

In a Spanish-language interview with ABC de Seville, Mr. García stated he was surprised by the public’s response, insisting there was “nothing” in his painting that “has not already been represented in artworks dating back hundreds of years.” He said that “if it can happen in the 16th century, I am surprised that we can’t show a Christ like mine, with his bare torso, in the 21st century.”

García is not the first artist to face criticism for his daring depiction of Jesus. Such images have made headlines for many years. What happens to these artworks after they are created and consequentially embroiled in controversy? Here’s a look back at some of the most contentious images of Christ.

“Head of Christ” Warner Sallman (1940)

"Head of Christ" (Unsplash/Collage: Angelo Jesus Canta)
"Head of Christ," by Warner Sallman  (Unsplash/Collage: Angelo Jesus Canta)

What has been largely left out of the conversations surrounding Garcia’s work is Jesus’ race, as the poster depicts him as a white man. A 2020 article by America’s editor at large, James Martin, S.J., identified the widespread notion of “White Jesus” in artwork, although the Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ race other than that he was from Israel. Father Martin writes, “He's known as ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ after all, which means he came from a small (200-400 person) town in Galilee.” And yet, Sallman’s “Head of Christ,” a painting commissioned for the cover of an evangelical magazine, has been printed over 500 million times, including as pocket-sized icons handed out to American soldiers overseas during World War II.

Sallman insisted that the image came to him in a vision sent by God, but many Catholic art historians point to Sallman’s work as one of the modern origins of the idealized whiteness of Christ, both in the United States and abroad, that depicts a Christ matching a “white European” aesthetic made in the image of the artist’s ideals.

“Immersion (Piss Christ),” Andres Serrano (1987)

American photographer Andres Serrano is probably best known for his image “Piss Christ,” a now-infamous picture of a plastic crucifix submerged in what is said to be the artist’s urine. Serrano, who is Christian, focuses his work on his religious upbringing and the misuse of religion.

After “Piss Christ” first debuted in New York in 1987, Serrano’s work was displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia. The late Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Melbourne at the time, sought an injunction from the Australian Supreme Court to ban the artwork from public display. Catholic protestors at the National Gallery removed the photograph from the wall and hammered the plexiglass frame over the photograph. Years later, in 2014, Christian protestors stormed the Fesch Museum in Corsica, demanding the art be removed as it was an “insult to every Corsican.”

In 2012, Serrano told The Guardian: “At the time I made Piss Christ, I wasn’t trying to get anything across. In hindsight, I’d say ‘Piss Christ’ is a reflection of my work, not only as an artist, but as a Christian.”

“Christian Popsicles,” Sebastian Errazuriz(2012)

At a 2012 gallery exhibition in New York, N.Y., the Chilean artist Sebastian Errazuriz distributed and displayed one hundred popsicles made of frozen communion wine­. The popsicle sticks were formed in the shape of a crucifix with a depiction of Jesus etched into each stick. As the wine popsicle melted or was consumed by gallery attendees, the popsicle stick was left stained red, symbolizing what the artist called “religious bloodbaths throughout history.” The work was heavily criticized by the Catholic League, which called Errazuriz “a bigot, a hypocrite, and a rip-off artist,” especially after it was revealed that Errazuriz snuck a cooler full of his popsicle sticks into a church and claimed that they had been consecrated by the priest.

“Mama,” Kelly Latimore (2020)

Photo 2- “Mama” (2020), a painting by iconographer Kelly Latimore, was stolen from the Catholic University of America in November. (Image courtesy of Kelly Latimore)
 “Mama” (2020), a painting by iconographer Kelly Latimore, was stolen from the Catholic University of America in November. (Image courtesy of Kelly Latimore)

Following the murder of George Floyd, American artist Kelly Latimore created “Mama,” a painting that depicts an image of Jesus, who the artist intended to represent Mr. Floyd, in the arms of a Black Mary. The piece was displayed in the hallway of the law school chapel of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., with a description that read: “The image is evocative of the Pietà—the Mother of Sorrows. May Mary, the Mirror of Justice hear the cry of all who have known the sorrow of losing a loved one to violence and injustice. Amen.”

Some Catholic students who claimed that the painting was offensive to their faith started a petition for the painting’s removal. Shortly after the petition was formed, the painting was stolen from the law school. The university replaced the painting with a smaller reprint in the hallway of the campus ministry offices, but that was stolen, too. This series of thefts led to the students passing a resolution calling for the removal of any images of “Mama” from university buildings. The resolution called Latimore’s artwork “blasphemous, offensive and at the very least confusing.”

When asked if the painting is of George Floyd or Jesus, Latimore told The New York Times: “Is it George Floyd? Yes. Is it Jesus? Yes. There’s sacredness in every person.” In 2021, Gloria Purvisinterviewed Kelly Latimore for “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” and discussed the icon. In an accompanying article, Ms. Purvis wrote: “The image is not a reduction of Christ’s perfection and divinity. It is a reminder that we are made in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26).”

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