The lofty arches and deep, dark recesses of the arcade tell us that we have returned to the palace we have seen before – and indeed, the long, slim staff held by the man on the left of this detail creeps into the bottom of Lent 5. This is the very palace from which the black trumpeter heralds an important decree (Lent 6), and, as the staff must be a staff of office – in some way like a sceptre – this must be the ‘monarch’ for whom the musician was playing. His status is proclaimed by his dress – a broad, dark hat, wound around with a scarf, with a gold band and a plume like the tail of a comet. He wears a pink robe, and a gold-trimmed green collar, or cape, flecked with white. At this scale it is hard to tell what these details represent, but remember this outfit: we will see it again.
The ‘monarch’ is Pontius Pilate, not a ruler in his own right as it happens, but the Roman prefect – the governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’s death. His presence it attested in the historical record, but little is known about him (however, if you want to find out more, I came across a web page, which seems reliable, entitled Who was Pontius Pilate?) Given that he is standing more-or-less alone looking out from his palace, we could assume that Jesus has already been condemned, but it might be safer to withhold judgement until we see what happens next. However, the fact that we are with Pilate tells us that it is already Good Friday – the day on which Jesus was crucified. After the arrest, which we haven’t witnessed, ‘they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes’ (Mark 14:53). This happened after the Last Supper, and after the Agony in the Garden (Lent 10) on the evening of Maundy Thursday – so it was already quite late. While he is with ‘the chief priests and the elders and the scribes‘, Jesus is accused of blasphemy, and Peter denies any knowledge of him. This has taken all night, and the cock has started to crow – indeed, by the time it crows the second time, Peter has denied Jesus thrice… This is what happens next, according to Mark 15:1 –
And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
As yet, we do not know how far into the day we have come, so have no real way of knowing who the other people in today’s detail are – although the man in the red hat, and with a golden/yellow collar, could conceivably be one of the chief priests. Let us decide when we see what tomorrow has to offer.
Meanwhile, I would like to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who attended my series of talks, Going for Gold, which concluded last night – and to invite you all to the next series: Michelangelo Matters, which will take place on Mondays again – 22 & 29 March and 5 April. You can find the details, and relevant links, on the diary page. As a teaser, they will put the following three works in context.