It’s a gory portrayal of the crucifixion, created from casts of human bone and blood vessels, which looks certain to offend Easter church-goers. But Dr Gunther von Hagens, the controversial anatomist, insists that his latest work is not blasphemous but a true expression of Christian values.
The German scientist, notorious for his Body Worlds exhibition of preserved human corpses, has brought his plastination technique to bear on the iconic image of Christ on the cross.
Describing his Crucifix as “a piece of religious anatomy art,” von Hagens argued that his work “draws on Christian traditions, with the skeleton symbolising frailty, finitude and human transience, while the vascular system, in which the blood is transported around the body, stands for the miracle of life.”
Art historians and theologians will discuss von Hagens’ contribution to artistic interpretations of the crucifixion, a field which ranges from Damien Hirst to Monty Python, in an Easter Sunday documentary on Channel 4.
The artist claims that his Crucifix follows in the grand tradition of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. But he attacked filmmakers including Martin Scorsese for blasphemous for disrespecting the source material.
Von Hagens said: “There have been many controversial representations of Jesus which I think lack fundamental respect for the Christian religion. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ has strong deviations from the New Testament account and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ contains extremely sadistic scenes.
“And even many non-religious people had very strong reactions to Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, depicting a crucifix in a Plexiglas tank, or the singer Madonna on a cross with a crown of thorns.”
The new piece was made by injecting liquid plastic into bones and blood vessels, from a number of donors’ bodies, which then hardens to create perfect casts. The sculpture showed “Jesus as if he had been frozen in time, between death and decay, ever since the moment he was nailed to the cross.” The sculpture is currently housed at von Hagens' Heidelberg Institute of Plastination but it is hoped that it will be placed on public view.
To those offended by his crucifixion, he said: “It is the price of an open society, that what followers of religions would see as indecent or tasteless should be permitted as a means of artistic expression – at least to a certain limit. For me this is the finest and most difficult project I have ever undertaken.”
Von Hagens, who disclosed that he is battling Parkinson’s Disease, today opens a Natural History Museum exhibition of 100 animals preserved through plastination.