The lamb, 1920, 39

Is this little painting so easy to understand? The representational elements are not difficult to decipher with the aid of Christian iconography. The lamb with the cross behind its head is the “lamb of God”, i.e. Jesus, the redeemer. The sacrifice of his blood delivered the world from guilt and sin. The lamb is embedded in a warped zone, like a suspended piece of cloth. By only a small stretch of the imagination, we are reminded of the Veil of Veronica known to Christian imagery since the middle Ages and supposedly showing a “true” likeness of Jesus Christ.

Klee’s depiction is a modern version of these traditional themes. Two years after the bloodiest war of all times had come to an end – a war conducted by art-minded nations – Klee commented on the events in his own way. The lamb merges with the layered landscape: it is there and yet it is not there. Was the sacrificial death associated with this symbol justified or not? Apart from the complexity of its content, the painting is unusual by virtue of the oscillating bands of colour. Here Klee, who played the violin perfectly and had an excellent musical education, may have been expressing the polyphony of the fugue in visual terms. The small work thus adheres to the autonomous artistic codex which preoccupied the artist throughout his career.

Oil and pen-and-ink drawing on cardboard
31.3 × 40.7 cm
Inv. No. 2104

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