A New York man has sued the city’s prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art (locally referred to as “the Met”) for exhibiting paintings depicting Jesus as white, the New York Post is reporting.
Acting as his own attorney, 33-year-old Justin Renel Joseph filed court papers in Manhattan Supreme Court, alleging that four particular paintings on display at the Met caused him “personal distress.” Those four paintings are The Holy Family With Angels by Sebastiano Ricci, The Resurrection by Perugino, The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Tintoretto, and The Crucifixion by Francesco Granacci.
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Mr. Joseph, speaking to The Post, claimed that the “racist” paintings depicting an “Aryan” Jesus must be removed from the museum because they amount to an “extreme case of discrimination.”
“They completely changed his race to make him more aesthetically pleasing for white people. I’m suing a public venue which by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can’t discriminate on a protected basis.”
In his filing, Mr. Joseph claimed that because he has “bronze skin” and “black hair of wool” like the historical Jesus, instead of the white Jesus in the paintings, he felt “excluded.”
“The implication that someone who possesses physical features like the plaintiff could not be the important historical and public figure of Jesus Christ… caused the plaintiff to feel, among other things, rejected and unaccepted by society.”
For centuries, Western art has largely depicted Jesus as white and possessing European features. There’s a reason for that, says Met spokeswoman Elyse Topalian: artists paint for their audience.
“When they were painted, it was typical for artists to depict subjects with the same identity as the local audience. This phenomenon occurs in many other cultures, as well.”
In fact, outside of Western art, it’s not impossible to find paintings — and also sculptures and other representations — of Jesus as black, Asian, Native American, Indian, or Middle Eastern.
The true, historical Jesus was, of course, not white. He was a first-century Palestinian Jew and, as such, probably bore a resemblance to modern-day Palestinians — which is to say, bronze skin, woolly black hair, and a wide nose, among other physical features.
Depicting Jesus as anything other than white seems to cause controversy as well. In 2013, Fox News host Megyn Kelly famously stated that Jesus (and Santa Claus) were both white, according to the Atlantic.
“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”
In fact, Saint Nicholas, the saint who inspired the legend of Santa Claus, was a fourth-century Turk, so whether or not he was white is a matter for ethnologists to determine. But since Santa Claus is a myth, there’s no reason, from a historical standpoint anyway, not to depict him as anything other than white.
As for the paintings that caused Mr. Joseph such distress, the Met has politely declined to take them down, saying they are important for both their artistic and historical contexts.
Do you think it’s wrong for museums to display paintings showing Jesus as white? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Image via Shutterstock/CREATISTA]