Marc Chagall, the Jewish painter famed for his mystical shtetl scenes, is one of Pope Francis’s favorite artists. But the pontiff’s favorite Chagall is not one of a fiddler on the roof, but his dramatic “White Crucifixion.”
This was one of the revelations made public in an interview carried out by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, and published simultaneously last week in several Jesuit journals around the world.
News reports focused on the pope’s statements faulting the church for being “obsessed” by issues such as gays, abortion and birth control. But the wide-ranging conversation also touched on his personal preferences in the arts and culture.
“Among the great painters, I admire Caravaggio; his paintings speak to me,” he said. “But also Chagall, with his ‘White Crucifixion.”’
Chagall painted “The White Crucifixion” in 1938 in response to the persecution of Jews by the Nazis and others. The painting, which is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, shows Jesus as a Jew, wrapped in a prayer shawl, crucified against a background of anti-Jewish violence, including the torching of a synagogue.
In music, Francis told Spadaro that he loves Mozart — especially, he said, when performed by the Romanian-born Jewish pianist Clara Haskil, who died in 1960. “I love Mozart performed by Clara Haskil,” he said. “Mozart fulfills me. But I cannot think about his music; I have to listen to it.”
The pope also named Richard Wagner as another of his favorite composers. Wagner’s music is rejected by many Jews because of his anti-Semitism.
For the record, the pope’s favorite movie is Fellini’s “La Strada.”
Pope Francis has displayed a markedly warm relationship with the Jews both before and since his ascent to the Papacy. He wished the Jewish people a happy new year ahead of the recent Rosh Hashanah celebrations and called for interfaith dialogue between the world’s religious communities and leaders.
Pope Francis also reiterated a statement made last June, saying “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite,” and adding that “to be a good Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions.”
Two weeks ago, Pope Francis praised Jews for keeping their faith despite the Holocaust and other “terrible trials” throughout history, and reaffirmed Judaism as the “holy root” of Christianity.
Inn June, he said he might travel to Israel next year to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem in 1964, before the Vatican recognized the State of Israel. “The government of Israel granted me a unique opportunity to come to Jerusalem,” Francis said.
It would be Francis’s second visit to the Holy Land. He visited in 1973, arriving just as the Yom Kippur War broke out.
President Shimon Peres first invited Francis to Israel immediately after his election, calling on the pope to visit as a spiritual, not a political, leader. “The sooner you visit the better, as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace,” Peres said.
Both of the pontiff’s immediate predecessors visited Israel — Benedict XVI in 2009 and John Paul II in 2000.