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Numinosity: Darkness And Light

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Christ crucified by Benvenuto Bellini, 1562

Christ crucified by Benvenuto Cellini, 1562

Sometimes images betray unintended information about the human psyche. Benvenuto Cellini had his reasons for creating this image of Jesus Christ crucified almost five hundred years ago. He wasn’t the first of the last to show Christ nude. What is vital today, is that this image has so much to tell us about our human psyche and condition today. That is the power of what I can only say is a numinous image.

A numinous image is one that is more than a recording of a visual fact. If the image takes us deep within ourselves, or out beyond the realm of ordinary life where we can almost touch whatever it is that we call heaven or nirvana, then the image is numinous. Evoking a sense of mystery, holiness, awe, and even the presence of whatever it is that we struggle to name as the creative force of the universe, such images take us out of ourselves and into ourselves. And where it takes us, isn’t always about light. As often as an image takes us to the awe of creation and heaven, an image also makes evident the face of darkness, of fear, of anger, of hell. This image of Christ is not one that would be called acceptable for modern society.

The Son of Man just can't be seen nude.

The Son of Man just can’t be seen nude.

An acceptable version of the crucifixion has Jesus wearing a covering such as in this second image. We don’t want our God to be anything like us. God the Father or God the Son, it doesn’t matter. Heaven forbid that there would be any association with out God and human sexuality. Historical accuracy is sacrificed so that we don’t have to face both dark and light faces of what see as love, salvation and the heavenly kingdom which awaits all who earn their right to enter that heavenly kingdom.

The last thing modern people want is for an image of their god to point back at them, to highlight all the darkness and light within them. Rather, this god must save them from their inner darkness, their fear, their dread of the evil they know lurks within them. People unconsciously want a god to save them, and a devil to blame. But, there is more to it than this. The image of a nude Jesus challenges us to shift our notions of purity, of holiness, of what is right and wrong.

Thus, we become wary of numinous images. We become selective, choosing those scenes which evoke a sense of awe such as beautiful sunsets, scenes of gentle and adoring love, scenes of innocence. We reject those images that cause us unease, stripping them of their power in any way we can.


2 Responses

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  1. Do you know if the Roman crucifixions were done naked? I would think this would be more likely viz. quicker exposure to the elements along with public humiliation?


    September 14, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    • History tells us that crucifixions were done naked. It was about humiliation. Logic says that you don’t hang a person to kill him and humiliate him while at the same time protecting his modesty. Slaves, lived nude for the most part in the Roman empire. Here is a bit from Wiki:

      “While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, writings by Seneca the Younger suggest that victims were crucified completely naked.[19] When the victim had to urinate or defecate, they had to do so in the open, in view of passers-by, resulting in discomfort and the attraction of insects. Despite its frequent use by the Romans, the horrors of crucifixion did not escape mention by some of their eminent orators. Cicero for example, described crucifixion as “a most cruel and disgusting punishment”,[20] and suggested that “the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears”


      September 15, 2013 at 6:32 am

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