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P7 - Jesus Through Art: In the Wilderness

These activities appear in the book Jesus Through Art by Margaret Cooling by Religious and Moral Education Press.  The book is out of print.  Please advise if this book becomes in print again, and this section will be removed from the website.  The books Christianity Through Art and The Bible Through Art are still available from Religious and Moral Education Press.

Teacher notes

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, 1837-1887

Introducing the painting to pupils

Give pupils several things to choose from, appropriate to their age.  Do they ever have a problem making up their minds?  Discuss the meaning of the phrase 'decision time' with pupils.  Are there times when we are forced into making a decision?  This painting is about Jesus making an important decision.

Background to the Painting 

In 1863, a group of fourteen Russian art students rebelled when asked to paint a mythological subject ('The Feast of the Gods in Valhalla'). The leader of this group of students was Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy (Eevan Nikol-eye-avitch Krramskoy). The students felt this subject was so far removed from ordinary life that it was irrelevant to the social needs of their time. They wanted realism. The fourteen artists attracted new colleagues, and in 1870 they gained the title 'The Wanderers' or 'The Travellers', short for 'The Society of Wandering Exhibitions', The exhibitions they held attracted new artists and injected new life into Russian art. Some members of this group used their art to comment on Russian society and to try to encourage others to improve it. Russian society at the time was deeply divided between rich and poor: the serfs had been liberated only in 1861. 

This painting of Christ in the wilderness is dated 1872, The artist wanted to create a very Russian Christ. He also wanted a Christ who could reflect the sorrow known to all people. He painted not a Christ with a beautiful, peaceful face, but a desolate figure in a stony desert, crouched in the cold, blue light of dawn. It is the face of an ordinary working man. 

Kramskoy himself said that there comes a time in every person's life when they must choose. He has caught Christ's moment of choosing. 

A Christian Understanding of the Biblical Story 

Jesus faced three temptations: 

-           to buy easy popularity by turning stones to bread 

-           to take a short cut to fame by bowing down to evil 

-           to use his power to stun people into believing in him by throwing himself from the Temple, and forcing God to protect him 

Jesus rejected these temptations. He refused to choose a popular and painless route to achieve his ends. Jesus chose to be a different type of leader. He chose to live as an ordinary man, rather than the life of a superhero. He became a poor teacher who healed the sick and sorrowful. He was not a superhero who solved other people's problems but was himself untouched by them, Jesus was tired, hungry, homeless and lonely. He was one of the people in the way he lived, just as he identified himself with the people when he was baptized. 

Conversation Points 

1) Read the story and discuss it with the pupils (Luke 4: 1-13). Ask them to invent a title that suits the painting. 

2)  Talk about temptation and how we experience it.  How are people tempted today: through other people, through thoughts, or in some other way? What sorts things tempt people today? 

3) Martin Luther said of temptation: 'You can't stop birds from circling overhead, but you can stop them resting in ­your hair.' In other words: 'You can't stop being tempted but you don't have to give in to it.' Do you agree?


1) Talk about temperature. Bring in a crystal strip thermometer and show the class how it works. Has the painting got a temperature? Older pupils can draw a thermometer using colours. Younger children can tick one of four words: 'cold', 'cool', 'warm', 'hot'. Ask them to give a reason for their choice. 

2) Pupils can write (inside an appropriate shape) what superheroes do. In what way was Jesus a superhero what way wasn't he a superhero? 

3) Pupils can rearrange the story as a script for two voices and a narrator. In groups, pupils can perform the story in any of the following ways: 

·as a choral piece 

·as a drama 

·as a mime while others read as a tape recording 

For further activities click here 
and here

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