Lent 22

This is the Via Crucis – ‘The Way of the Cross’. So we know now, now it is confirmed (as if we didn’t know before) what the outcome will be. Jesus is carrying his own cross, with two guards, mainly out of view, pulling him on, and another behind grabbing the same grey-blue robe we have seen him in before and pushing him on, threatening to strike him with something blunt… I can’t see what it is but it doesn’t matter, it could easily be a wooden spoon, but whatever it is, it is being used as some form of goad. Another guard gestures ever onwards, his back to us, looking over his left shoulder, with a yellow headdress knotted at the front. Although I didn’t show it to you in full, this is the same type of headdress as the snub-nosed guard we saw in Lent 16, whose gesturing hand pointed the way in Lent 19 – that detail does at least show the knot at the front of his headdress – which was red. Nevertheless, I suspect this is supposed to be the same man – his chain mail collar changed to red fabric, the full sleeves now slashed. He’s a type, not a person though, so it doesn’t really matter if the assistants didn’t match the outfits from one appearance to the next.

Following the condemned are the ‘great and the good’ of Jerusalem. Or, to put it another way, the guilty parties responsible for Christ’s imminent death. At least Pilate tried to have him released, according to John, but nevertheless, here he is at the front of the procession of presiding dignitaries. We last saw him standing outside his palace in the same outfit (Lent 14): the wide hat, bound with a scarf, a tall plume sticking up from its centre, the full-sleeved pink robe, with a green collar. It doesn’t look as green here – it is more like ochre, perhaps – and it doesn’t have the same detailing. But then, we are further away. He also holds his long, slim, staff of office in his right hand – with which he still manages to point – as well as gesturing with his left: ‘Keep him moving,’ perhaps. Behind him in the procession are two plump men elaborately dressed – one with a broad-brimmed red hat, another with something more like a purple pillbox, and a high, white, wrap-around collar. I suspect the latter was the man in the red hat, hands on the balcony, who we saw with Pilate at his Palace. Both of these men following Pilate must be chief priests.

The gospels say little about the Via Crucis – and the accounts we have, the tales which form the Stations of the Cross (which will have to wait for another day) – are not in the bible. No falling, no falling a second time, no Veronica wiping his face. The three synoptic gospels say that a man called Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to follow Jesus and carry the cross, but there is no sign of him here. Luke also describes the attendant crowds, including the ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ (Lent 18), as well as telling us that the two thieves were led away with him (Lent 19) – they are just a few steps in front. But John doesn’t mention this. He doesn’t mention Simon of Cyrene either, saying (19:17),

And he bearing his cross went forth…

So it is John who inspires this image. The T-shaped cross is lodged over his left shoulder, weighing him down, the length of it parallel to the angle of his back. Its left ‘arm’ is held in place by his left hand, which we can just see above the arm of the guard pulling him on, and supported by his right arm which reaches around in front. With the crown of thorns still embedded in his scalp, he turns his head towards us with a look of utter pathos. As one of the increasing number of the cast of characters aware of our gaze, he looks towards us and into our souls, evoking our sympathy, and reminding us that we are the reason for – we are the cause of – his suffering.

Published by drrichardstemp

I talk about art...

20 thoughts on “Lent 22

  1. I think the gestures of Pilate have their own pathos. He is pointing at Jesus with his right index finger, but his left hand (open palm) evokes a feeling of pity within me, as if he is saying, look at this poor man and the suffering you are causing him. Have mercy on him. But then maybe this is just wishful thinking.

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  2. First I need to say how much I enjoy your blog and fantastic attention to detail..in addition to erudition!

    2 thoughts.. not particularly about this painting.. you quite rightly quote from our much revered authorised version. However I wonder about the strict translations of the reformation into flemish? German? Dutch?.. I wonder whether they have ever been translated back into English to see how they differ? Even if their origins are identical I bet there is a twist in the telling!..and therefore perhaps different emphases and details in protestant religious painting?

    A second silly observation..I was interested in your notes about hose.. yes we think of tights and now I am fixated on those suspender belts of my youth of cursed memory!..I always wondered how the italians had hose with different colours on each leg…if separate legs..must have neen draughty around the nether regions? and difficult on horse back?. Is that the reason for the wierd puffy bloomers ( whatever the proper name is) that became fashionable? ..just practical curiosity.

    Either way modern trousers must be a boon!

    Kind regards

    Anne

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. Thank you, Anne!
      And you’re right to ask – what about other translations? However, it may not be relevant to our painting, as Luther’s translation into German wasn’t published until 1522, and the first Dutch version, apparently based on Luther’s, came four years later, both of which are, as it happens, too late for our painting. Then there is the issue of whether Protestants would have been painting bible stories anyway – which, on the whole, they weren’t. Although Luther himself was happy to have paintings, Zwingli and Calvin weren’t – hence the iconoclasm – and the one truly ‘Lutheran’ painting I know has a very modern-day relevant-to-the-way-we-do-things look about it. But that’s because it shows confession, Baptism and The Last Supper – only the last of these is anything like a ‘Catholic’ image (but even that is not that similar). However, on the whole, they let painting go.
      I’m not an expert on clothing, but yes, the separate legs on hose could have been draughty, but if they weren’t wearing a long enough ‘skirt’ to cover their thighs, or the breeches (of various lengths), the legs of the hose might be joined just like tights, I think. The two colours you mention usually refer to the heraldic colours of the head of the household, especially when worn by servants.

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  3. Such a poignant and moving image, all humanity is there. Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…Even for a non-believer, this is the one to bring tears to the eyes. Those C15 Netherlandish painters certainly knew how to tell a story!

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  4. The repetition of the hand gestures – the pointing, including the jeering “tongue-pointing”, and the open handed “this way” or “here you are” gesture, here including Pilate and the man in the purple pill box – seems a little cartoonish. I suppose it is essential to keep the eye flowing around the narrative.

    I had expected the spoon-like goad to be a whip: might a trailing lash have disappeared? Or perhaps it is a riding crop with a flat-ended “popper”? Is there some joke here, with it being used in the wrong way and the wrong way around?

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    1. On reflection, I think the “spoon” is just a brown stick. The flat end is part of his greenish hat. But he is also bare-footed, like the man in the red jerkin to the right. We’ve only got one leg here, but he has white wrappings tied around both legs (like the man in the sandals yesterday, who only had wrappings on one leg).

      Is the man with the yellow bandana, green jacket with slashed sleeves, and falling down red boots, the one bending down next to the auger in Lent 17?

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      1. I’ve had another, closer look – and I still think it’s a spoon, or a spatula – it’s really not clear enough to tell. I’m not convinced it’s part of the hat, but I could be wrong!
        And I think the man in the yellow bandana is the snub-nosed guard in the top right of lent 16, or at the very bottom of lent 19 (where the bandana is red) – but not the man with the auger…

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  5. Such a busy scene I can almost hear the clamour. Children are in the foreground joining in the procession.
    Are they unaccompanied?
    The Priest in the round hat is carrying something which appears to be on a chain. Is it a purse or a censor?

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  6. Why is Pilate following Jesus as he has by now washed his hands before the multitude and delivered him to be crucified but here he seems to be rather supervising things. Are there other examples of Pilate being shown on horseback? Perhaps the painter simply liked painting horses as there are quite a lot of horses in this painting or rather the same horses make various appearances.

    I am enjoying this very much

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    1. It’s a good question – but I think the answer will be provided in a couple of days’ time… And I think there are horses here simply because both rich people and some soldiers would have travelled on horseback when the artist was painting, and it is a good way of showing status that the original audience would have understood.

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  7. I’m thoroughly enjoying this forensic and informative deconstruction of a painting … I learn something new everyday (and not always about the painting)! Thank you for this enjoyable Lenten ritual.

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