A woman, Frida Kahlo, looms in the foreground, central to the painting, facing the viewer fully frontal.  She is nude, except for a sheet that is wrapped around her foreshortened lower body, and the widely spaced straps of an upper-body corset.  The center of her upper body is vertically torn open from neck to pubic region to reveal an Ionic column that is split horizontally in numerous places.  The column pushes up against the figure's chin.  The expression on the woman's face is serious, stoic.  Tears trickle from her eyes and carpenter nails penetrate the skin of her face and the rest of her exposed body, as well as the sheet.  Her long dark hair hangs loosely behind her head, her left ear exposed. Behind the woman stretches a fractured greenish-brown earth, reaching to a strip of sea, which meets the dark blue sky.


This stunning portrait demands the viewer's attention.  On the one hand, the figure is passive, gazing at us almost without expression, completely still, acceptant of the scattered nails and rigid column that penetrate her body.  On the other hand, the beauty of her perfectly formed breasts and well-formed upper body, the eyes that engage the viewer, subtly convey the energy of the figure's spirit and will.  At this point in Kahlo's life, the painful physical problems that had plagued her on and off for years were becoming unrelenting.  Doctors prescribed a variety of orthopedic corsets to support her degenerating spine.  The portrait seems to personify pain and simultaneously some level of tolerance for pain.

Many who view the painting are reminded of images of Christ on the cross.  Kahlo was certainly long-suffering and represented the physical and emotional aspects of her condition in many of her works (see annotations of "Tree of Hope" and "Henry Ford Hospital"), but the energy and originality of her personality and artistic vision shine through.  For interesting commentary on "The Broken Column," see Hayden Herrera. Frida Kahlo: The Paintings (New York: HarperPerennial) 2002, pp. 180-183.  Also useful is Gannit Ankori's commentary in her book, Imaging Her Selves: Frida Kahlo's Poetics of Identity and Fragmentation (Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 2002, pp. 114-119).  Ankori points out that the vertical fissure of Kahlo's body and the fissures in the earth surrounding her, evoke violation -- consistent with the catastrophic accident that Kahlo suffered at age 18, and its lifelong consequences


Painted in 1944

Primary Source

Hayden Herrera. Frida Kahlo: The Paintings (New York: HarperPerennial) 2002, p. 181