Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

Zurbaran’s Agnus Dei

Intended to create contemplation upon the viewer, Francisco Zurbaran’s Agnus Dei, Lamb of God, is simple in its rendering, yet complex for its subject matter. The lamb is an evident reference to Jesus and the fact that it is deceased relates to Christ’s self –sacrifice for humanity. There is an inscription in Latin at the bottom of the work which reads, “He was lead as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb voiceless before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth” Acts 8:32. The inscription directs the viewer to see the Savior not only as a martyr but also as an entity with no other choice but to accept his fate. By the “voiceless lamb,” Jesus’ inability to protest His own crucifixion is portrayed yet the theme remains ambiguous because the “voiceless lamb” also manages to undergo the ultimate travail and demonstrate compassion for man-kind.

The animal in Zurbaran’s painting holds a nearly unaffected expression, but may also be the resignation to protest its demise. Although the sheep’s hooves are tied up, there is gentleness about its demeanor which is emphasized by its white fleece also demonstrating its meekness—and so the ambiguity ensues. There is discernment in the animal’s patience, by the relaxation of the limbs, and the dearth of strain in its body, revelatory of Christ’s giving nature. The lamb is further consecrated by Zurbaran’s inclusion of a subdued nimbus about its body. The light that appears to be shining down on the figure is suggestive of The Father, radiating his love for his son. The descending glow is also allusive to God’s forgiving nature, indicating to the audience that there has been wrong doing by the animal.

Zurbaran’s painting of the Agnus Dei can be viewed as either of the opposing images of Christ as the flawless savior, or Christ as the silent doubter, but it is up to the viewer to make this decision.

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6 responses

  1. Akshata

    I think it’s very interesting how the lamb in the painting literally does represent Jesus, and also visually depicts the suffering of Christ. The radiating light adds a heartwarming touch to it also.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:33 am

  2. jlai1226

    As to the reference to Acts 8:32, I do not think it is really Jesus’ or the sheep’s “inability” to protest his own crucifixion but rather his choice not to say anything. I think the part about the silence further emphasizes Jesus as a perfect martyr rather than contrasting it. Acts 8:32 is a basic quoting of a prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 which states that
    “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”
    I think that this shows that his silence is more of a choice.

    May 12, 2011 at 6:47 pm

  3. ler884

    I agree with the last comment that the sheep’s binding represents more the idea that he is accepting his “defeat” and seems to look conent with that decision. As Akshata said the soft light on the character brings warmth to the image and a sense of harmony or happiness almost.

    May 13, 2011 at 2:52 am

  4. nbe88

    I grew up around rodeos and catching an animal to tie it up is something that I have seen time and time again. At first glance, the lamb seems absolutely helpless and has no fight left. But as you begin to take in the details from its posture, fleece, face, and lighting, it seems as though the lamb is somewhat alive. He seems content that the light from above is shining down on him as if it is beckoning him to go towards it.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  5. nbe88

    At first glance, the lamb seems absolutely helpless and has no fight left. But as you begin to take in the details from its posture, fleece, face, and lighting, it seems as though the lamb is somewhat alive. He seems content that the light from above is shining down on him as if it is beckoning him to go towards it.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm

  6. I like the starkness with which the lamb is presented in the painting, simply a lamb lying bound on a stone table. I think the content but almost saddened look on the lamb’s face helps emphasize the humanity of Jesus. Also fascinating are the lamb’s somewhat ferocious horns that are turned backwards and rendered meaningless.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm

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