“‘I don’t believe it is my picture.’ ‘Can’t you see your ideal in it?’ said Dorian, bitterly. ‘My ideal, as you call it…’ ‘As you called it.’ ‘There was nothing evil in it, nothing shameful. You were to me such an ideal as I shall never meet again. This is the face of a satyr.’ ‘It is the face of my soul.’ ‘Christ! What a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of a devil’” (Wilde, 132).
In his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde paints a portrait of the dangers of idolatry in art and appearance. The above passage is from a conversation between Dorian and Basil in the middle of chapter 13, when Basil sees the portrait of Dorian as it has transformed to reflect his soul. Basil cannot “believe it is [the] picture” he painted of Dorian because it is now so ugly. Dorian asks Basil is he can still see his “ideal” in the portrait, to which Basil replies, “there was nothing evil in it, nothing shameful.” The “it” in the sentence could be Basil referring to the original painting as something that wasn’t “evil” or “shameful” when he first painted it. However, the “it” could also refer to Basil once considering Dorian to be his “ideal.”
Basil seems to be defending his idolization of Dorian when he says, “there was nothing evil in” this idolatry, “nothing shameful.” However, Basil reckons with his idolatry when Dorian confides that the portrait in its current state “is the face of [his] soul.” Basil’s own acknowledgement of having idolized Dorian is most apparent when he exclaims, “Christ! What a thing I must have worshipped!” Basil did not just admire Dorian, nor was he simply obsessed with him – he worshipped Dorian in a god-like way.
The passage seems to be suggesting that idolatry is dangerous because you can never fully know the ins and outs of who or what you are idolizing. Dorian’s appearance is beautiful, but as the portrait reflects, his soul is ugly. What you think could be “Christ!”, as Basil ironically says in his reaction to the portrait being a depiction of Dorian’s soul, could very well be the “devil.” Perhaps, the novel is making a broader statement about religion and art – that to put art in the place of God is a wrongful glorification of beauty and appearance.