Christ before his judges

Christ before his judges

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Title: Christ before his judges.

Author : GOTTLIEB Maurycy (1856 - 1879)

Creation date : 1877

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 160 - Width 270

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: The Israel Museum website

Contact copyright: © Elie Posner / The Israel Museum, Jérusalem website

Picture reference: B86.0290

Christ before his judges.

© Elie Posner / The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

It was at the end of a brief life that Maurycy Gottlieb, a promising representative of Polish painting in the XIXe century and pioneer of "Jewish painting", through monumental paintings confronted the iconography of Christ and particularly the representation of this episode of the Passion which has always crystallized the tensions between Christianity and Judaism. With Christ preaching in Capernaum (Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe) almost exactly contemporary, Christ before his judges undoubtedly constitutes the key work of this Galician artist who is represented in the two unfinished canvases, claiming for himself a status of privileged witness to the life and preaching of Jesus.

Image Analysis

In a unique way, the composition juxtaposes two distinct episodes: the appearance of Christ before Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, and before the supreme Jewish court of justice, the Sanhedrin. Although the latter is hardly represented to his advantage, the painting not completely breaking with the Christian iconographic tradition making the Sanhedrin a place of iniquity, the artist modifies the meaning of the scene by presenting the priest Anân - and not the high priest Caiaphas - as the most active of the persecutors of Christ. Through the figure of the high priest, pursued by a stubborn reputation for infamy, the Jews are thus absolved of the deicide attributed to them. This accusation is further overturned in Gottlieb’s two closely linked paintings by the reappropriation of a Jesus wearing both the Jewish prayer shawl (tallith) and the halo of Christian saints. Appearing less as the founder of a new religion than as a high figure of Jewishness, he is a Jewish prophet who came to speak, in the first place, to the Jews.


Gottlieb finds himself at the heart of the aspiration to renew biblical representation in the direction of increased authenticity which unites many Easterners. Although not unprecedented in art, the restitution (particularly risky for a Jewish artist) of the figure of Christ to its original Jewishness finds its origin as much in the work of the promoters of a critical history of the Scriptures. like H. Graetz (Geschichte der Juden, 1853-1875) or E. Renan (Life of jesus, 1863) than in the personal motivations of an artist torn between two identities. The mood of gloom that bathes the compositions of Jerusalem and Warsaw perhaps testifies to the painter's disillusionment with the reconciliation between the two oppressed peoples (the attribution of Galicia to the Habsburg Empire was the consequence of the dismemberment of Poland in the 18th centurye century) which indissolubly formed the basis of its identity, the Poles and the Jews.

Study in partnership with the Museum of Art and History of Judaism

  • Orientalism
  • biblical episode
  • Jesus Christ
  • biblical character


AMISHAI-MAISELS Ziva, The Jewish Jesus, Journal of Jewish Art, 1982, p.84-104.

MENDELSOHN Ezra, Christ in the synagogue by Maurycy Gottlieb, Les Cahiers du Judaïsme, 1998, 2, p.32-36.

MENDELSOHN Ezra, Painting a people Maurycy Gottlieb and Jewish art, [Waltham, Mass.] Hanover: Brandeis University Press, University Press of New England, 2002 p.130-138, p.164-165 GURALNIK Nehama, In the Flower of Youth. Maurycy Gottlieb 1856-1879, Tel Aviv, Museum of Art, 1991.

To cite this article

Alexis MERLE du BOURG, "Christ in front of his judges"

Video: Judges 2: The Death of Joshua. Pastor Steven L. Anderson