Artworks
Christ Held by Half-Naked Men

Contributor

This may well be the weirdest painting of Jesus in all of art history.

It’s almost like the premise for a Men at Work/Christianity themed porno: limp messiah held in the lap of a very strong man in a chair, flanked by a battalion of buff-guys wearing jeans and hats but no shirts.

Marsden Hartley was infatuated throughout his life by “cults of masculinity.” He painted pre-WWI German military pageants and his first great love was a Prussian military officer he met while living in Berlin. Late in his short life Hartley adapted the police-officer fetish to the masculine cult that surrounded him in his native Maine: fishermen.

Hartley was living with a lobsterman in Corea, Maine when he painted this ode to the power of sex. He did this during the same summer that he painted his famous Lobster Fishermen, which is now in the Met. Similar to the way that Michelangelo let his desire for male bodies overshadow his artistic expressions of faith towards the end of his life, Hartley’s Jesus has nothing on the chiseled pecs (from hauling lobster traps all day) and beer-fed bellies (don’t drink no water, fish piss in it) of the shadowed Mainers. In fact, might Jesus even be sitting in that fellow’s lap? The man in the chair looks more angelic with his closed eyes and gentle hands than Christ does.

Hartley’s return to Maine after a lifetime of wandering abroad did good things for his art. He’d watched the queer bastion of the Wiemar Republic disintegrate into Nazism, he’d felt estranged from Gertrude Stein’s clique in Paris, he’d painted the landscapes of New Mexico, and sold art in New York, and now he had global knowledge to plug back into his native vocabulary. The powerful result is a surrender to his desires, you can almost hear Frank Ocean asking if it’s a bad religion in the background while Jesus fades away and Marsden shows us what he really wants.

Sources

Sources

  1. Burlingame, Robert. “Marsden Hartley’s Androscoggin: Return to Place.” The New England Quarterly, 31, no. 4 (1958): 447-62. Accessed September 25, 2018. https://www.jstor.org/stable/362378?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  2. Cirigliano II, Michael. “Marsden Hartley and Wilfred Owen: Queer Voices of Memorial in Wartime.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Now at the Met, December 20, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2018. https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2017/marsden-ha
  3. “Hartley at Home: About the Artist: a Chronological Biography of Marsden Hartley from 1877 to 1943.” Bates College Museum of Art: the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection & Archive, 2018. Accessed September 25, 2018. http://abacus.bates.edu/acad/museum/har