In the 1860s, Nikolai Gue began to address religious themes, thereby continuing the tradition that developed in the works of AA Ivanov.
At the Ivanovskoye farm in the Chernigov province, Ge lived until his death. Here he thought about the last days of Christ and began to create the gospel cycle of works.
In the 1860s and 1880s, Russian society was concerned with questions about morality, good and evil, about the imperfection of human nature, the options for the reincarnation of man in this world. All this was expressed in literature and painting. These questions Ge put in his gospel cycle is so acute that his paintings or caused complete rejection or delight of some connoisseurs of painting. His paintings were forbidden to show in private collections and at exhibitions.
The society first of all shocked the image of Christ. In He, he is not a God-man, but an ordinary man with all the conflicting aspirations of the soul.
In the work “What is truth?” Ge in the title denotes the main question of the era. The composition is based on the opposition of two opposing worldviews. Pilate, passing by Christ, does not intend to lead a lengthy dispute, since the decision has already been taken. Pilate is placed in the foreground in a sunlit space. The artist depicts him from behind, thanks to the folds of his clothes the figure resembles an antique column.
Christ, on the other hand, is depicted in the shadows. He seemed to be driven into a corner, but the expression on his face indicates the readiness to resist evil. Christ is far from humility and believes in his truth. But his truth for Pilate is in the darkness, where he does not see it. The procurator raised his hand in a questioning gesture that seemed to share the space between the two heroes.
The aim of the artist was to create a work that can awaken the soul to reflections and make you think about the problems of being.