Lent 15

Jesus has been arrested, interrogated, tried and condemned. His hands are tied, and he is being led away. How do we know this? Well, he is wearing the crown of thorns. This follows on from the verse I quoted from the Gospel of Mark yesterday, in which he was taken to Pilate first thing on the morning of Good Friday. The interrogation revealed nothing, but, as it was the custom, Pilate decided to release one prisoner – and the one chosen, given that the ‘chief priests moved the people’ was Barabbas. When asked, ‘the people’ wanted Jesus crucified. After he had been scourged (this painting does not include The Flagellation), Jesus was handed over to be led to his execution. Matthew’s gospel includes the story of Pilate washing his hands, thus abdicating all responsibility for Christ’s coming death – another thing we don’t see.  According to Mark 15:16-18 & 20,

…the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium… And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! … And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.

So this is after the Mocking of Christ (also not depicted): he has the crown of thorns, but wears ‘his own clothes,’ the same dark grey robe we saw in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lent 10). I’m sure this was originally a different colour. It could have been blue – some blue pigments tend to darken – but I’m afraid I can’t confirm that, as I don’t have access to either the catalogue entry, or the technical report. Another day, perhaps, when libraries are open again.

Jesus is being hustled out, the guard to our left of him having grabbed hold of his robes with his right hand (although precisely why is not clear just now), and holds a rope with his left. The guard to our right snarls as he grabs Jesus’s sleeve and points the way. In another context I might admire his natty hot pants, but here they seem wholly inappropriate, looking for all the world as if he has simply forgotten to put on his trousers. We have seen this before. It is not becoming, and like the exaggerated features of the other guards, with their pronounced underbites, large noses and ears, his unsuitable apparel adds to the sense that these are not good people – however richly, and elaborately, some of them are dressed. Look at the two at the top right of the detail. They hold weapons we have seen before: the one on the left holds the bident that crept in yesterday (although I didn’t comment on it), and the one on the right has the halberd seen in Lent 6. They are guards, and yet they wear the most richly adorned clothes – it is all very incongruous.   

In the top left corner we can just see Pilate’s pink robe. Given that we now know what has happened, it does seem likely that the man we saw next to him yesterday – he had a red hat, and a yellow/gold collar, and nodded in a deferential way towards the prefect – was indeed one of the chief priests, checking to see the progress of their vendetta. Today we can just see his hands, resting complacently on the parapet.

Somehow, through all of this, Jesus remains calm, patient, meek even, his hands tied, his head bowed. The Crown of Thorns, evenly wound, sits tight upon his head, digging into his skin so that blood drips down his nose, over an eyebrow and across a temple – and down to his neck. His eyes are lowered, his lips parted as if he is sighing at the folly of mankind, but he does not struggle. And unlike the dramatic gestures, the exaggerated features, the almost animalistic expressions of the men who accompany him, his face remains still, and the features are regular – everything emanates his patience with, and love for mankind, which are the only things that will keep him going.

Published by drrichardstemp

I talk about art...

10 thoughts on “Lent 15

  1. You described the scene vividly Richard. Thank you ! It seems to be me that the man on the extreme left, in his green-gold turban-like hat, with the rope, with a resigned expression, makes one think he has done this ‘job’ many times before? The hands of the figure to the right of the trouserless man would seem to be pushing away the scene he has before him ? Julia

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    1. Thank you! And yes, you could so easily be right. That’s one of the things that makes this unexpected painting so good – however much we can pin it down to the biblical narrative, it still leaves so much open to personal interpretation.

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  2. Yes, I presume so – the highlights are certainly meant to be read as such. I think in this case – and the previous one – the artist was painting the effect of the reflections rather than the specifics of the manufacture, if that makes sense.

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  3. This is a fascinating picture Richard. I’d love to know if the artist is simply painting the every day ugliness of normal early 16th century people or if he has chosen to make his figures caricatures to heighten the tension around Jesus. It’s very effective, reminds me of the orcs when the capture Frodo in Jackson’s film.

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