An Edwardian-Era Lithographic Sermon for Holy Week: Sigismund Goetze’s “He was Despised and Rejected of Men” (1904)

The 1904 lithographic drawing, “He was Despised and Rejected of Men,” by Sigismund Christian Hubert Goetze (1866-1939), edges arguably too close to the didactic to be truly a work of art.  As one account of it noted, this work is “an artist’s sermon.”  But then and now, Goetze’s work “has created” and creates a “sensation.”

Following are a few observations on the drawing that are posted at Victorianweb.org

“At the exhibition of the Royal Academy in London, the great canvas by Sigismund Goetze … has created an artistic sensation.” It is declared to be a “‘powerful and terribly realistic presentment of Christ’ in a modern setting.”  In the same piece, the writer in the Christian Commonwealth (London) is quoted as saying, “Those who have seen the picture will realize the impossibility of giving even a faint idea of its power and awful significance. In the center of the canvas is the Christ, standing on a pedestal, bound with ropes, while on either side passes the heedless crowd. A prominent figure is a richly vested priest, proudly conscious of the perfection of the ritual with which he is starving his higher life. Over the shoulder of the priest looks a stern-faced divine of a very different type. Bible in hand, he turns to look at the divine figure, but the onlooker is conscious that this stern preacher of the letter of the Gospel has missed its spirit, and is as far astray as the priest whose ceremonial is to him anathema. The startled look on the face of the hospital nurse in the foreground is very realistic; so is the absorption of the man of science, so intent on the contents of his test-tube that he has not a glance for the Christ at his side. One of the most striking figures is that of the thoughtless beauty hurrying from one scene of pleasure to another, and spurning the sweet-faced little ragged child who is offering a bunch of violets. In rejecting the plea of the child we know that the proud woman is rejecting the Christ who has identified himself forever with the least of these little ones. The only person in the whole picture who has found time to pause is the mother seated on the steps of the pedestal with her baby in her arms, and we can not but feel that when she has ministered to the wants of her child she will spare a moment for the lover of little children who is so close to her. In the background stands an angel with bowed head, holding the cup which the world He loved to the death is still compelling the Christ to drink, while a cloud of angel faces look down upon the scene with wonder. As the visitor turns away he is haunted with the music of Stainer’s “Crucifixion,” “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”

Also quoted in the Literary Digest article is a review from the Christian Herald of New York, which said: “This allegory — which a critic has aptly called ‘a painted sermon’ — is applicable to conditions in any part of the civilized world. It is a picture to study deeply and to ponder about, in order that the full force of the lesson it teaches may be understood” (“Despised and Rejected of Men,” 292-93).

The post at the Victorianweb.org points out that the musical work referred to in the 1904 Literary Digest article, John Stainer’s 1887 oratorio, The Crucifixion: A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer, was very popular in this period.  (See William J. Gatens, Cathedral Church Music in Theory and Practice [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986], 188.)  It was first performed February 1887 at St. Marylebone Church, London.  Goetze, “a cultured man, a zealous church-goer, and a pillar of the local community, is almost bound to have heard” that first performance.

Bibliography

“‘Despised and Rejected of Men’: An Artist’s Sermon.” The Literary Digest. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Vol. 29, No. 10 (July 1904-December 1904; this essay from the 3 September 1904 issue: 292-93). Hathi Trust. Contributed by the University of Minnesota. Web. 20 July 2018.

Gatens, William J. Cathedral Church Music in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Rose, Barry. “Not Another Crucifixion.” The American Organist. Vol. 37 (2003): 38-39. Available in the Open Music Library. Web. 20 July 2018.

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