A return to the roots of Catholicism

A return to the roots of Catholicism

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Title: Christ among the peasants.

Author : VON UHDE Fritz (1848 - 1911)

Creation date : 1885

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 50 - Width 62

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Picture reference: 86EE408 / RF 772

Christ among the peasants.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Back to the Gospel.

The end of the 19th century, the century of positivism, of rationalism, of the rise of the secularization of societies, is also - and this is not paradoxical - a time of renewal of religious thought, encouraged by Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum (published May 15, 1891), and his appeals to rally the Catholic world to the Republic. We therefore seek to legitimize Catholicism by inscribing it in history and to find the purity of the Gospels. This movement, present in the Catholic world, for example in the teaching of Father Loisy (1857-1940), student of Renan and author of The Gospel and the Church(Paris, Picard, 1902), also carried the Protestant world. Christ among the moderns, Christ "man among men", becomes one of the favorite themes of naturalist, realist (doesn't he allow the most picturesque and most moving genre scenes?) Or symbolist painters.

Image Analysis

Blessing. Fritz Von Uhde pictures the very text of the prayer which precedes the meals: “Bless - the Lord [blesses] - The right hand of Christ blesses us and what we are going to consume. But this is not a simple prayer. Christ is present in this family of peasants (German or Dutch) with whom he will share the meal. Recognizable by his halo, his beard and his long robe, he is very real and truly among peasants, the ideal image of the people, the true people of God. Von Uhde, German painter, participates in the liberal Protestantism of his century, marked by an evolution which leads him to a more moral than mystical practice of religion. Let us also note the stereotype: the greatest fervor of women and children, raising their eyes to the Lord - as if they are "drinking his words" - while other peasants, men in particular, have their heads lowered, in the traditional gesture of prayer.


This painting was a great success. Criticized by some - especially Catholics - who saw it as a desacralization of Christ, it was nevertheless bought in public sale by the Republican State, for its Museum of Living Artists (Luxembourg), a sign that this State perceived the message of humanitarian approach to this painting, which also offered the significant advantage (in 1893) of presenting the people in a reassuring light, far from the noise of the working class. This picture stained with oil; other painters soon exploited the same vein, including Léon Lhermitte, Béraud, Dagnan, Debat-Ponsan or Jacques-Emile Blanche. Evidenced by The Host or the Last Supper, large composition undertaken in 1891. "It is the subject of the Pilgrims of Emmaus, treated in the modern way, according to the tradition of the Dutch and the Flemish: without" local color ", the characters dressed as they were in their time "Writes Blanche, who continues:" Christ is Anquetin; draped in a white linen bathrobe with blue patterns - fish (ikhthus, iota, khi, theta, upsilon, sigma, in Greek characters), symbols of the name of Christ, and O circles, symbols of Eternity. Anquetin breaks the bread, his eyes raised to the Father. To his right and to his left, two pilgrims: a worker in a blouse, and a craftsman from my street, in a houppelande, contemplate, questioningly, the Son of God, who became man. "
An evangelical breath passes over the Salons at the end of the century: it is an "epidemic, Jesus Christ anarchist, socialist, liberal and revolutionary, realist, historical, symbolist, naturalist" is everywhere ... and "Christ protests": " Ah, if I could have guessed, if I could have guessed that, two thousand years later, I would be painted and repainted, and overpainted… my gosh! I confess that I would have renounced it. And humanity would have gotten out of business without me, as best it could. »Dixit Mirbeau, the anticlerical Mirbeau (The newspaper, April 28, 1901).

  • Catholicism
  • Jesus Christ
  • meal
  • rural life
  • biblical character


Gérard CHOLVY and Yves-Marie HILAIRE Religious history of contemporary France , tome II, (1880-1914) Toulouse, Privat, 1986.Isabelle POUTRIN (ed.) The 19th century, science, politics and tradition Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1995.

To cite this article

Chantal GEORGEL, "A return to the roots of Catholicism"

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