18/11/08 | Posted by Simon Jenkins
It’s not the first time that a footballer has substituted for Christ, of course. Michael Browne, the artist of the George Best painting, put another Man United player, Eric Cantona, in the biblical frame back in 1997. In that painting, Cantona was shown rising from the dead in a pose taken from Renaissance pictures of Jesus’ resurrection. Michael Browne took some stick from the church about that, too, of course.
This new painting has drawn the same sort of knee-jerk criticism, where Christians attack what they see as an attempt to depict George Best as God. “While many worship George Best on the field, I feel that many people, not just Christians, may find this painting inappropriate,” says the Bishop of Bolton, quoted in The Times.
A couple of things, though. Artists have been experimenting with how to depict Jesus ever since zero AD. They’ve used a huge variety of models and faces to explore who Jesus was – see our Faces of Jesus gallery for the tip of the iceberg. In one famous example, Jesus borrows the face of Che Guevara to show how revolutionary he was. There’s no reason why George Best, with his inspired skills in the Beautiful Game, shouldn’t shed some light on who Jesus was, however imperfectly.
It’s interesting, as well, that Michael Browne used a couple of homeless people to pose for his two saints, plus Page Three model Sam Cooke for one of the two women. I can’t help remembering that Jesus spent most of his time with people who were looked down on by the polite society of his time. There’s something gritty and real about this painting, despite its overblown imagery.
Christians need to be careful not to go into an automatic whinge whenever someone uses Jesus in a way they don’t like. Jesus doesn’t “belong” to Christians or the church. He came for the big, wide world. And for George Best, too.
Could this be a spot the ball competition?
This really does more to remind us of the stark contrast between his talents and skills on the one hand and his all too human frailties on the other. This is, of course, a good lesson to us all. Those that find these things offensive must remember that to be offended indicates that they are still at this level themselves. To feel offence is egocentric, selfish and factious it leads to controversy and conflict; I am amazed that men of the cloth become so embroiled in these petty matters.
Top pic love it
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