Love and death
The resolutely atheist painter Francis Bacon (1909–92) refused to admit any directly religious readings of his works; however, these works include a long and consistent exploration of Crucifixion imagery, as in his famous Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) or Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962). For the most part, art historians and critics have avoided Bacon’s Crucifixion paintings even though they form a consistent thread throughout his career. This chapter traces that thread from his earliest works to the final and culminating paintings of his most tragic subjects. Additionally, imaginative consideration of the subtle details and biographical overlays in the paintings creates space for a deeper appreciation of the sufferer’s subjectivity and how it relates to what can be said about Christ’s sufferings on the cross (i.e., his own encounter with the thought of death) and how theological speech, namely supposed theodicies, must handle such evil. Thus, Bacon’s works invite fresh readings of the New Testament’s narration of the betrayal of Christ and the tragic layers therein. In this way, his artworks bid us to more fully mourn even as we contemplate the meaninglessness of suffering.