Sunday, April 8, 2012

Max Ernst and his Picture-Manifesto

As far as I know Max Ernst (1891 - 1976), a German surrealistic painter & sculptor, made only one picture that can be called masochistic. It is 'The Blessed Virgin Chastising the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses' from 1926. This probably little blasphemous picture (it was immediately publicly denounced by the archbishop of Cologne) is recreating Parmigianino's mannerist masterpiece 'The Madonna of the Long Neck' from 1540 for 20th century. Muted colors are replaced by primary one, fluid forms and classical allusions are replaced by simple geometric shapes and traditional adoration by the modernist questioning.
The beaten child in Ernst's picture, the blond, curly haired Jesus, is most probably autobiographical. In 1896 five year old Max escaped from his parent's house and walked in the middle of a pilgrim's procession. Enchanted by blue-eyed, blonde infant in red night shirt the pilgrims proclaimed 'Look, little Jesus Christ'. When next day a policemen brought the child home, little Max proclaimed that he was sure he was a little Jesus.
The three men peeping through the window and watching the scene are Paul Eluard, Andre Breton and Ernst himself. Masochism played important part in whole Surrealism and its esthetic, but it was reversed - turned around - from passivity into more active form of sadism ('it is in so far as the subject makes himself the object of another that the sado-masochistic drive not only closes up, but constitutes itself' - surrealists were reading Freud too much, I think). This Ernst's paining, so carefully destroying old myths about art, remains one of the rare examples of pure masochism in whole surrealistic movement.

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