MOSCOW — While some Western Christians may not balk at C.S. Lewis presenting Jesus as a lion, a central Russian court is not so patient about a depiction of him as Mickey Mouse.
The Kaluga Region court has banned as extremist a painting by Alexander Savko that depicts the Sermon on the Mount with Mickey Mouse sitting on a rock surrounded by halo-clad disciples and admiring onlookers, reports RIA Novosti.
The world's most famous mouse wears the robes of Jesus and raises his three-fingered white gloves in blessing. A large round shoe peeks out from under the robe. Mickey's expression is somewhat quizzical, as if he were telling a ghost story instead of delivering the Beatitudes. The image was part of a series of paintings Savko created under the moniker "Mickey Mouse's Travels Though Art History."
The prosecutor's reasoning for seeking the ban was quoted by RIA Novosti: "During the court hearing, it was established that Savko's technique of uniting the image of Jesus Christ, which is sacred for Christians, and the comical image of Mickey Mouse, which in this situation is vulgar, has turned the graphic work into a caricature of Jesus Christ … The Gospel story is therefore presented by the artist in the form of a comic, which is an extremely cynical and mocking insult to the religious beliefs and feelings of Orthodox Christian believers."
Savko, however, jumped to defend his painting. The purpose of this painting is not abuse of Christ and not abuse of Christians," Savko told the Huffington Post. "This is displaying current reality: the substitution of human spiritual, moral values with mass-cultural values."
So on the one side the Russian Orthodox are saying the painting offensively depicts Jesus as a mouse. On the other side, the painter says it depicts people worshiping popular culture instead of Jesus.
An unverified and unlikely claim on the Internet is that Mickey Mouse's image is the most reproduced in the world and there are more than 7,500 items that bear his likeness. Jesus is in second place and Elvis is in third. For what it's worth, simple Google image searches, however, return 13,600,000 results for "Mickey Mouse," 22,200,000 for "Elvis" and 27,300,000 for "Jesus Christ."
In July last year, the New York Times reported the painting joined a host of other "offensive" works of art in a Moscow exhibit titled "Forbidden Art — 2006." The exhibit displayed art that had been banned by Russian museums. The exhibitors, Yuri Samodurov, and Andrei Yerofeyev, were fined for "inciting religious and ethnic hatred."
Savko, it appears, wasn't in trouble in 2006. But now the Kaluga Region court ruled the painting is "extremist." If an appeal fails, RIA Novosti reports it "will be banned from exhibitions, newspapers, magazines or television."