Scenes showing Jesus’ agony in the moments preceding his crucifixion are among the most common subjects in religious-themed painting and sculpture in Europe and Latin America. Part of the purpose of such works was to affect spectators and awaken faith and devotion through rhetorically laden imagery of the Bible illustrated through realism and exaggeration of drama and phatos.
Botero addresses the issue with tremendous flexibility in Via Crucis, using a succession of imagery spanning from Jesus’ prayer in the garden and arrest to the time of scourging and condemnation to death. Color is the main character in the paintings, both as a constituent material of the volumes and as a means of bringing out moral or character aspects. For example, Judas’ greenish-gray skin, while anachronisms allow many of the scenes depicted to be placed in contemporary time and space, so that a very human Jesus, with features that are not at all supernatural, is tortured here and now, before our eyes.
This latter aspect is tangible in the masterpiece The Kiss of Judas (2010) in which Botero self-portrays himself and in Ecce Homo (2010), where the artist’s hand appears pointing to Jesus. This aspect, which allowed many artists of the past to explore self-portraiture and devoutly tie themselves to supernatural scenes or those with deep spiritual and religious involvement, takes on new meanings in Botero. In the past, the artist elevated the painting to an act of faith, while in the case of the Colombian master it plays a dual role: that of the artist and of the donor who, after making the painting, gives it to a museum.
The drawings, on the other hand, flaunt a formal simplicity that distances them from the risk of falling into melodrama; here color is barely hinted at. These are compositions that favor figures, defined by a few lines, while the backgrounds, traditionally arranged as scenic backdrops, are also barely hinted at or sometimes nonexistent. The substantial differences between the two artistic techniques testify to Botero’s goal of conceiving drawing as a medium independent of painting.