Christian art is rarely displayed in museum collections of Asian art. Yet it has played an important role in parts of Asia. Christianity came to the Philippines in the early sixteenth century with the arrival of Spanish colonizers, and it is the dominant religion today. This large wooden image of Jesus may have come from a church or a private chapel in the Philippines.
Two common depictions of Christ on the cross are “Christ in agony” and “dying Christ.” In the first, Jesus’s head is lifted, his eyes raised, and his body tense with pain. In the second, his head droops, his eyes are closed, and gravity pulls on his near-lifeless body. This image seems to represent an intermediate stage. Jesus’s emaciated torso has been pierced by a lance, his head has not quite fallen to his chest, and his eyes are not yet completely closed. Though scarred and bloody, his face portrays no pain. His wounds are shocking in their naturalism—one can see the skin lifted away to reveal the flesh beneath, while the corners of each gash begin to bruise. This emphasis on the explicit portrayal of Jesus’s wounds was common in images made in the Philippines. Other indicators of a Southeast Asian origin of the statue are the angular shape of the face and the curve of the body. The tradition of intense realism in religious imagery arose in Europe in the seventeenth century. Artists aimed to evoke an immediate emotional reaction in the viewer. Empathy and awe came hand in hand.
“The figure of the Christ takes me back to going to Catholic school. In the Philippines, it’s very typical in a town to have the Catholic church and then a Catholic school nearby. So I was in church almost every day, except Saturday. Seeing the image of Christ brings back a lot of memories. The figure is so elegantly carved and painted that when I look at it, I feel Christ’s sadness. But also the serenity in his face is wonderful.”
-Edwin Lozada (President, Philippine American Writers and Artists)