Art is no fringe attached to the garment, and no amusement that is added to life, but a most serious power in our present existence.
Abraham Kuyper

Zadkine: The Prisoner

ArtWay Visual Meditation January 16, 2022 

Zadkine: The Prisoner


Zadkine’s Sculpture Sings the Psalms

by Koos Sluiter

The sculptor Ossip Zadkine was a contemporary in place and time of Marc Chagall. From 1910 Zadkine lived in Paris and France became his second homeland. From 1941 he was exiled for a time in America, just like many other artists and scholars. 

You see here a sculpture taken from three sides, made in 1943 in New York, titled ‘La Prisonnière,’ ‘The Prisoner.’  The singular noun is strange. It is clear that there are three figures in this work. With this sculpture Zadkine wanted to show ‘freely and openly’ – as he himself says – how the German occupation of France has touched him.

The massive bars refer unmistakably to the occupation. Yet, that is only half the story. Zadkine represents France in three different ways here. The figure on the left shows a plaintive face with a bent head and closed eyes. Completely closed off. That changes with the middle sculpture. The arms reach beyond the bars to the outside. The head no longer hangs down but stands solidly on the shoulders. The eyes are open but there is a beam across the mouth. Gagged. The figure on the right is the tallest; the feet are on the outside, the head with chin up moves freely and unhindered. The right hand holds one of the bars like a flagbearer. They are all allusions to ‘Marianne,’ the personification of the French Republic, as on the painting Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix.

The three figures together tell the story of the longing for freedom. It is a story of hope and confidence. That longing, that hope, confidence and trust cannot be locked up. Did Zadkine picture only France or also himself? The Prisoner depicts everyone, the Exodus story, all of humanity. The three figures are within each of us. Sometimes we are the one, sometimes we are the other, as in the Psalms. Zadkine’s sculpture leads us in singing the Psalms.

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
[and] the Lord answered me.

Psalm 118: 5


Ossip Zadkine: The Prisoner, 1943, bronze, 210 x 70 x 80 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France.

Ossip Zadkine (1888-1967) is considered to be one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century. He was born in Vitebsk in Belarus. He established himself in Paris in 1910. He eventually became a naturalized French citizen in 1921. That is where he became acquainted with modern art, to which he himself contributed from 1911 with primitive sculptures in stone and wood. Under the influence of Cubism he developed a completely unique style, beginning in the 1920s. During the 1930s his style became ever more dynamic and baroque. During World War II he was exiled in the United States, where his reputation kept growing. After 1945 his expressive sculptures show the resilience of Europe’s reconstruction, giving unique form to Europe’s new ideals.

Koos Sluiter, born in 1946 in Emmen, The Netherlands, has been a pastor since 1970 and retired in 2011. He gives courses and presentations, in which he explores the interplay between faith and art.



1. REALITY AND ITS REPRESENTATIONS – 28 January, on zoom, 20 h, L’Abri, The Manor House, Greatham, near Liss, on zoom: Rating culture: a reflection about reality and its representations. By Josué Reichow, L’Abri worker. This lecture reflects on the ways we represent reality and how it expresses what it means to be human on one hand, and how, on the other hand, that can go wrong, leading us to reduce reality, losing the meanings given to humanity by the Creator. We will be exploring questions such as: What is a representation? How different dimensions of reality can be represented? Are there things that cannot be represented? And finally, in the background of this reflection we will analyze the current growing rating culture and its implication for how we live our lives. Password: Lecture.

2. IMAGES OF THE NEW CREATION – 1 February, 19 h, Centre for Marian Studies, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, Waldegrave Rd, London: Re-Visiting Creation: Signs of the New Creation in Christ in Images of the Visitation. Dr Chloë Reddaway will explore the locations, typology, iconography, and pneumatology found in images of the Visitation, illuminating connections between the Visitation, the New Creation in Christ, and the female role in creative redemption. This event has been organised in honour of the late Dr Cathy Oakes, founding member of the Centre for Marian Studies. Free registration and further details at:

3. REMBRANDT SEEN THROUGH JEWISH EYES – 24 January – 14 February (4 sessions on Mondays), on zoom, 20 h, Jewish Museum, Obraztsova St., 11, build. 1A, Moscow: Rembrandt Seen Through Jewish Eyes. Four sessions. With Simon Schama, Bart Wallet, Michael Zell, Gary Schwartz, Irina Sokolova and more. More information: Register:

4. A NEW IMAGE OF CHRIST IN THE 20th CENTURY – 4. 6, 20 et 27 janvier, 3, 10 et 17 février et 10 mars, 18.30 – 20 h, Collège des Bernardins, 20 Rue de Poissy, Paris, + visio : Art Culture et Foi : Un nouveau visage du Christ au XXe siècle. Proposées par Art Culture et Foi, les Rencontres Art & Spiritualité 2021 autour des 'visages du Christ' permettent de s’interroger sur le rôle des artistes qui ne sont pas de simples illustrateurs du récit biblique et de la recherche des hommes, mais aussi des explorateurs, des interprètes, des révélateurs, des chercheurs de l’Invisible. Après la première partie du cycle en 2021 sur les visages du Christ dans l’art du VIe aux XIXe siècles, ce cycle de huit conférences au Collège des Bernardins et en visio dévoile 'Un nouveau visage du Christ au XXe siècle'.

5. THE IMAGO DEI – 17 janvier, Institut supérieur de théologie des Arts, Institut catholique de Paris, 21 Rue d'Assas, Paris: Jérôme Cottin: "L’Imago Dei : l’humain ’à l"image de Dieu’ (Gn 1,26-27)".

6. CONTEMPORARY ART IN CHURCHES – 26 janvier, Paroisse protestante de la Robertsau, 86 rue Boecklin, Strasbourg : à l’occasion de l’exposition artistique de Annie Greiner, Strasbourg: Jérôme Cottin: "De l’art contemporain dans les Églises : mission impossible ?", conférence.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.