ONE DAY IN the Summer of 1935, Epstein was visiting a stoneyard. While picking out some small stones, he caught sight of a tremendous block of marble.
These monolithic pieces are chopped into great blocks and then sliced up into slabs for wall decoration and general building use. Epstein just couldn't stand the idea of such a lovely piece of stone being cut up into small sections. When he thought of all the magnificent statues which might be hidden in that stone--the tremendous possibilities which it held--he knew that he had to buy it.
He bought it and had it shipped to his London studio, where it stood about for some time taking up most of the free space. For weeks Epstein puzzled over what he would do with the stone now that he had it. Having not the least idea what to carve in it did not particularly bother him. He was happy that he had saved it from being butchered and was confident that if kept around long enough, the stone would itself suggest the nature of its final form.
When an idea finally suggested itself, Epstein went to work on the stone. This block of Subiaco marble was without doubt the hardest stone he had ever worked. Point after point broke against it without making the slightest impression. It was only after trying the products of a dozen toolmakers that Epstein found a point that would bite, and then very slowly he began to make headway against the tough stone.
The idea was to make a symbol of man, bound and crowned with thorns. The figure was to stare out accusingly at the world which had reduced it to this unhappy state.
The nature of the stone, its extreme hardness, caused Epstein to treat the entire carving as a series of broad, flat planes. The essential form of the stone remained intact, its massivity undiminished and its oppressive weight heavier rather than lighter than before.
Bulking more than twice human height, the figure which Epstein called "Behold the Man" is his largest single statue.
There have been a great many opinions, both pro and con, voiced in various periodicals and newspapers concerning "Behold the Man". Most of these opinions are bound up in the problem as to how right or wrong Epstein was in portraying what was essentially an impression of Christ in the manner he chose.