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Like most Frenchmen of his time, Manet was brought up as a strict Catholic, with most of his early life centred around church rituals.
Born in Paris on 23 January 1832, Edouard Manet was the son of a high ranking official in the French Ministry.
He would continue to embrace close ties with the church throughout his life. His command of the bible allowed him to compose images which placed his thoughts on what he thought about religion.
Thus, he was making a point with his religious paintings.
Manet failed an entrance exam to the naval college in 1848. He decided to go to the sea in order to avoid studying law as his father wished.
Later, he would, however, go on to become a painter in 1850 against his father’s advice. He joined the studio of Thomas Couture, a respected academic painter.
Manet’s gained much of his artistic knowledge through his visits to Italy between 1853 and 1857. He also travelled to Germany and Holland.
These travels exposed him to the realism masters of the past such as Goya, Velazquez and Hals. He attended the Salon des Refuses, which is an exhibition that consists of rejected works. He came to be perceived as a hero of rebels.
Although Manet saw himself as a follower of the great masters, his works rethought themes in modern terms.
Manet began painting Head of Christ in 1863 and finished it by 1864. It coincided with the release of the best-selling biography of Jesus by Joseph Ernest Renan titled “The Life of Jesus” in 1863.
While Manet’s great religious painting borrowed some elements from the earlier representations of the life of Christ, he integrated others sources to resonate with the themes he was trying to portray.
For example, while Titian depicts Christ as God in his piece titled Christ Crowned with Thorns, Manet depicts his Christ as a man. His piece which depicted Christ as ordinary shocked many contemporary viewers at the time. This reinforced Manet’s label as a hero of the nonconformists.
Although he craved official recognition, his rebelliousness was one of the reasons he struggled for academic acceptance.