Max Beckmann examines Jesus's human qualities—his inner strength and charisma, his humility and forgiveness, and ultimately his suffering—in this, his first print portfolio. Beckmann manipulates space, light, shadow, and the narrative sequence in order to heighten expressiveness, all formal techniques he would further develop in later prints and paintings.
The series begins with an image of Jesus alone in the desert, steeling himself for the forty-day journey and its attendant trials; although kneeling, he fills almost the entire height of the page. Beckmann then shows Jesus's baptism, his defense of a sinner, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper. In all of these prints, Beckmann places Jesus at the center of the composition. In the final print, however, he shifts the focus away from Jesus and onto the soldiers who crucified him. With their job complete, they while away time with a game of dice. Their mundane boredom contrasts sharply with the anguish Jesus is experiencing only a few feet away.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.