Why are some in Spain upset about a Jesus poster?

Must read

Missouri prosecutors charge 2 adults in Chiefs Super Bowl parade shooting [Update]

Updated Feb. 20: Missouri prosecutors have officially filed murder charges against two adults after last week’s shooting that killed one and injured 22 during...

By Nafeesah AllenFeatures correspondent

Getty Images Spanish artist Salustiano García Cruz's depiction of JesusGetty Images

A new poster in Spain has critics torn on what an appropriate rendition of Jesus should look like, and it’s not a new debate (Credit: Getty Images)

Conservatives in Spain call a recent rendition of Jesus “sexualised”. Art experts don’t get what the fuss is about.

Spanish artist Salustiano García Cruz’s depiction of a handsome, youthful Jesus – for whom his own son served as the model – on a poster in Seville has become the source of controversy. The painting, which shows a young and muscular Jesus in a loincloth, has critics – largely conservatives on social media – calling the image “offensive“, “evil“, and too “sexualised” for Holy Week.

More like this:

The literary scandal that rocked US high society 

The works too scandalous for display 

Netflix’s Griselda: Who’s real and who is not?

Barcelona gallerist Artur Ramon tells BBC Culture that this version of Jesus is so controversial because, in southern Spanish tradition, Christ is normally represented as suffering, drenched in blood. “This”, on the other hand, “is an idealised Neoplatonic Christ that’s more in the Italian Renaissance tradition,” says Ramon.

But opinions are split – and the social media outcry is certainly not representative of Seville as a whole. Many, including Seville mayor José Luis Sanz, find the controversy itself to be “artificial.” Sanz told the AP: “I like the poster…Some posters are riskier, some more classical, some are more daring.”

“It’s a Christ that I would say is effeminate or androgynous in a way,” Ramon continues. “Spain is a country that is still quite homophobic, and people don’t like that he is represented in this way for a festival that marks the passion of Christ in his final moments of life.” That said, Spain was one of the first nations in the world to legalise gay marriage and adoption for same-sex couples back in 2005, and the most recent rankings from both Gay Times UK and Global Citizen Solutions place Spain in the top five most LGBTQ+-friendly countries around the world. 

There has also been pushback against drawing conclusions about sexuality based solely on appearance; Garcia himself responded to such commentary in an interview with El Mundo: “A gay Christ because he looks sweet and is handsome, come on! We are in the 21st Century,” he said.

Ramon says Seville’s strong Catholic tradition makes it ripe for this kind of debate to take place there. Seville’s Catholic Archdiocese dates back to the Apolistic Age, the years roughly between Christ’s death and the 1st Century. The city sits within the autonomous region of Andalusia, which was ruled by Muslim Moors from the eighth through to the 15th Century. The Spanish Reconquest restored Catholicism to the region, although it still remains an important holy site for Judaism and Islam, too. Ramon says the debate over García’s non-suffering Jesus hasn’t spread to Madrid or Barcelona, and it’s not likely to – in those metropolitan cities, people are open to differing views, he says.

Getty Images There's been social media out-cry about a poster featuring a handsome, young Jesus (Credit: Getty Images)Getty Images

There’s been social media out-cry about a poster featuring a handsome, young Jesus (Credit: Getty Images)

“The Popes of the Baroque period would be over the moon if a painting made people engage with how Jesus might or might not have looked.” – art historian Morgan Haigh

Andalusian curator and teacher Pedro Alarcón of Casa Sostoa disagrees. “I think that, in general, people are very disconcerted, with the presentation of a beauty that they have seen as ‘very current'”, Alarcón tells BBC Culture. “The image of Christ responds precisely to some canons of idealization and archetype of classical beauty, which have always been followed throughout the history of art to represent the iconography of the resurrected one. Like some kind of Apollo…I think what is disconcerting is that he looks like a boy posing for a collection of any brand.”

“I think that actually, many people don’t care,” Alarcón continues. “And then there is a very religious sector…that does see it as something different and perhaps intolerable. And they don’t know how to express it, and they certainly have no references. In the end, they easily fall into saying that something is sacrilegious or blasphemous.”

Garcia himself told Atlas News Agency, “There is nothing revolutionary in the painting. There is contemporaneity, but all the elements that I have used are elements that have been used in the last seven centuries in sacred art.” Art historian Morgan Haigh echoes the sentiments that there’s nothing shocking going on here, adding that the controversy “seems to me… a huge overreaction to an image of Christ which, whilst unusual to see in our own times, does not especially stand out as an exception in the history of art. Biblical figures and saints have often been made attractive or ‘sexy’ in art history, whether it’s images of the scantily-clad young Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows, the naked body of Mary Magdalene covered only by her hair, or the muscular torso of Christ in works by Michelangelo and others.” Haigh says García’s painting is as close to the real Christ as any by Raphael, Leonardo or Titian.

And in the grand scheme of ecclesiastical art, this isn’t the first rendition of Christ that’s garnered negative attention. When compared to Andres Serrano’s intentionally vulgar 1989 Piss Christ, for example, García’s image appears quite tame.

The debate over what Christ might have looked like is longstanding in both religious and art circles. Professor of religious studies and theological studies at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alicia Batten, tells BBC Culture that images of Christ within the Christian tradition have always varied, usually reflecting the values of the artists and societies that produce them. “Given the dominance of particular notions of masculinity in many ‘western’ cultures, it is not surprising that some are upset with this image from Spain. The image apparently challenges some peoples’ ideal of who Christ should be, and indeed, their notion of what it means to be a man.”   

It’s important to remember why Garcia’s painting was made in the first place: to draw people into the Church over Easter. Haigh says he’d imagine “the Popes of the Baroque period would be over the moon if a painting made people engage with how Jesus might or might not have looked.” While the controversy has certainly garnered public attention, only time will tell if Salustiano García’s latest work actually met the objective of getting more people to attend Easter Mass.

“What is clear”, Alarcón adds, is that what’s potentially controversial “is not the question of nudity – far from it. Precisely, the artist has used a cloth of purity, which is literally taken from a Christ procession in Seville. That is to say: This Christ is just as naked as any other who goes out during Holy Week.”

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.


More articles

Latest article

Missouri prosecutors charge 2 adults in Chiefs Super Bowl parade shooting [Update]

Updated Feb. 20: Missouri prosecutors have officially filed murder charges against two adults after last week’s shooting that killed one and injured 22 during...

Was the Travis Kelce Super Bowl audio buried?

Slide 1 of 18Now playing 01:28Is Suns owner Mat Ishbia's tweet window dressing for imminent revenge? | Andy ReactsNow playing 01:56Flopping Suns...