The Entry

Christ Entry into Brussels in 1889-James Ensor 1888
The Belgian Symbolist James Ensor macabre vision of the Second Coming, 1888’s Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 is generally considered his masterpiece and with its densely crowded canvas, vivid use of colour and grotesque caricatures clearly pointed the way towards a new art: Expressionism.

With all the distorted clarity of a nightmare Ensor portrays a  heaving mob that includes skeletons, clowns and masked figures drunkenly await the entrance of the Messiah. Several banners line the processional route, however the leering faces in the foreground suggest that Christ’s entry will not be a triumphant one but will turn into a second Calvary.

37 thoughts on “The Entry

  1. Really interesting that the artist chose to paint the crowd this way, with everyday people next to people who look like they’re celebrating Mexico’s “Day of the Dead.”

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    1. Very true. Part of the appeal for me is the Day of the Dead look to the scene which fascinates me as does the whole very Mexican cult of death. I am not sure that Ensor was aware of it, his family owned a store that sold masks so masks are everywhere.

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  2. Excellent artwork. Sort of like 3D. Personally, I agree that Jesus’s return will be chaotic; after He brings His people home, the world below will launch into war. People think it’s scary now? Wait till then. :0

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  3. Symbolist, yes! I find it quite brilliant that Ensor depicted the crowd as they would be seen if they showed their true faces, not the false faces that they normally would put forward. This again is a striking composition, full and colorful, suggestive of festivities, yet not really. Much more like a lynch mob. As always informative and interesting Mr. Cake. ~ Miss Cranes

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      1. Oh, definitely. I personally think, and many will argue the point, that the best art is not the “pretty” art no matter the medium. The best art is the art that makes a statement, gets under your skin, and you think about long after the experience. (Even if you consciously hate it.) Although “pretty” can do this too, though not all artists are able to accomplish this.

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  4. I love your artistic choice, Cake. Very appropriate for our times: an isolated Christ among the poor and oppressed masses of our world. I share your observation: “the leering faces in the foreground suggest that Christ’s entry will not be a triumphant one but will turn into a second Calvary.” Not surprisingly, from what I have gleaned from his biography, he was an atheist.

    The late 1880s was a time of change for the Catholic Church in Europe. The pope at that time tried to correct the Vatican’s backward thinking and did what he could to open up the Church to social and political developments. [Much like Pope Francis is trying to do today with limited success.] I don’t know anything about Belgium’s history at the time, except that the Catholic Party had a landslide victory in the general elections in 1888 (according to a Google search).

    Ensor’s painting also suggests that he was not convinced that the Roman Catholic Church would bring about any meaningful changes for the suffering masses in his country and across Europe. In our time, Christian leaders who trumpet Christ’s teachings and lead His triumphal parade into the future seem to have forgotten His message of love of neighbor and caring for the least among us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for the detailed analysis. Belgian was heavily involved in the scramble for Africa. The extreme brutality in the Congo was revealed by the British Ambassador and later Irish patriot (who was the last person to be executed for treason) Roger Casement. You are indeed correct, they have forgotten Christ’s message of love and his care for the wretched of the earth.

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  5. This is a fascinating painting, the flat colors appear rather bizarre but fitting here. I love your description “heaving mob”… It’s almost ludicrous that Christ’s second coming should take place in Brussels. Love this painting Cake.

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    1. Well if you have ever visited Brussels (not that I can think of a reason unless you absolutely have to go there for some valid reason) you would also have your doubts about the reception of the Second Coming. I think Ensor’s point is considering the state of humanity we would probably just crucify him again. Indeed the thought is terrifying. Glad you found it interesting Miss Dawn you know that is my aim.


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