Chocolate Jesus

I love visiting with my friend Dan, a professional artist and colleague in the Art Department at ACU. Dan and I have been collaborating on research regarding the psychology of Christian aesthetic judgments. I've written about some of this work before. Our current project involves examining how death anxiety affects judgments of crucifixion art.

Dan's been pulling stimuli--various artistic depictions of the crucifixion--for me to use in the study. Today he showed me the fruits of his labor. After looking over the pictures he had found for the project he showed me some other interesting depictions of the crucifixion. (Dan and I have a taste for the provocative and shocking.) I was particularly struck by the "Chocolate Jesus."

"Chocolate Jesus" is actually entitled Sweet Jesus. Sweet Jesus is a 2005 sculpture by Cosimo Cavallaro. The sculpture is a six foot tall, nude and anatomically correct Jesus. Made entirely from chocolate. In 2007 Sweet Jesus was a part of an Easter Week exhibit entitled My Sweet Lord. Beyond the Chocolate Jesus the exhibit also showed Cavallaro's "Sweet Saints", little chocolate saint sculptures. The My Sweet Lord exhibit in New York was greeted with a cry of outrage, mainly from Catholics. Here's a bit from the Boston Globe account of the show's cancellation:

A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled yesterday amid a slew of complaints including those of Cardinal Edward Egan.

The "My Sweet Lord" exhibit was closed by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in midtown Manhattan, said Matt Semler, the gallery's creative director.

Semler said he submitted his resignation after officials at the Roger Smith Hotel shut down the show.

The 6-foot-tall sculpture was the victim of "a strong-arming from people who haven't seen the show, seen what we're doing," Semler said. "They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions."

But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as "a sickening display." Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."
You can surf to Cavallaro's Chocolate Jesus page on his website. His voiceover discusses a bit of the controversy which seemed to center mainly upon the nudity.

But the thing that strikes me about the work isn't the nudity. It's the medium. The chocolate and its Easter associations. What does the use of chocolate signify?

I have two thoughts about this.

First, is the use of chocolate a way to comment on the cheapening and commercialization of Easter? We all know Christmas has been captured by the retailers. Easter as well. All the chocolate bunnies and eggs and Easter baskets. Might a chocolate Jesus be a way to comment on how the cross has been transformed into candy? And might there be something scandalous about that? To me, the artwork speaks about that: The transformation of Easter into chocolate we buy at Walmart. Is that what Easter has become? And shouldn't I be shocked when I confront that fact in the artwork?

Second, there is something shocking about an edible Jesus. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus said during the Last Supper: I'm edible. You will eat my body. In short, the chocolate Jesus recovers the scandal of the Eucharist.

Dan also finds significance in the title "sweet," the biblical notion of that the Word of God is sweet to taste.

Love it or hate it, Dan and I agreed: Chocolate Jesus makes you think.

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7 thoughts on “Chocolate Jesus”

  1. The covering with the traditional loin cloth of the naked Christ Jesus given for us - however you interpret given, is a refusal to face how brutal and domineering the crucifixion was and how significant the 'despising the shame' is in the epistle to the Hebrews.

  2. I think people stretch to re-define sacredness, nowadays. The Church has become almost irrelavant to most lives, so the Church must create "sacredness" by "judging" or distancing themselves from culture. Sectarianism isn't "alluring to most" of the educated.

    And the Catholic Church's response is a case in point. The Church must condemn what appears to be a cheapening of the "holy".

  3. I don't care if it rains or freezes
    'Long as I got my chocolate Jesus
    Hanging in my rec room over the bar.
    He'll cause trials and tribulations
    and some irate condemnations
    but with my chocolate Jesus I'll go far.

    Because He's nude some people stare
    As He hangs there in the air
    Even though we know He was a man.
    With His bits for all to see
    He watches over my family
    Chocolate Jesus always has a tan.

    He is there when hunger strikes
    I'm eating Him in tiny bites
    But once I have a taste then I want more.
    I need to keep the AC on
    if it gets hot, then He'll be gone
    Just a chocolate puddle on the floor.

    Chocolate Jesus, chocolate Jesus
    You're causing quite a stir it's plain to see
    I'm afraid You'll have to go
    The priests don't think You're apropos
    I guess You're too correct anatomically.

    (with apologies to 'Plastic Jesus'.)

  4. You might enjoy the Tom Waits song entitled "Chocolate Jesus". A verse from it:
    When the weather gets rough
    And it's whiskey in the shade
    It's best to wrap your savior
    Up in cellophane
    He flows like the big muddy
    But that's ok
    Pour him over ice cream
    For a nice parfait
    Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Good enough for me
    Got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Good enough for me
    Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Make me feel good inside
    Got to be a chocolate Jesus
    Keep me satisfied

  5. When observing artistic expression as brilliant as this, I am reminded of what James Baldwin said; "The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers."

    Thank you for sharing this thought provoking piece.

  6. I did a post on this in April 2007, reaching not dissimilar conclusions See my

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