Friday, September 11, 2009

Ecce Homo

Title: Ecce Homo

Artist: Unknown master (Portugal)

Medium: Oil on wood

Size: 89 x 65 cm

Date: c. 1550

Location: Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

After a mob had chanted for his crucifixion, Pilate had Jesus led away where he was mocked, and beaten by soldiers. Then, as recounted in John 19:4-6: Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him." When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" But Pilate answered, "You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him."

In the garb of a mock king, Jesus has been portrayed to the mob not as a true king but as a harmless fool. Even his title “man” contrasts ironically with the Jewish charge: “God’s Son”. But his enemies insist he be crucified because, in part, it would signify that Jesus is accursed by God. In John's Gospel the focus is on Jesus as the revealer of God. His opponents have rejected that claim and desire his death in order to vindicate their conclusion.

Ecce Homo is a surprising depiction of Pilate’s presentation of Jesus. The figure of Jesus is detached from the deep black background by the insertion of a gold aureole, a transition between a plain abstraction and the human figure. Christ is shrouded by a white cloth that half covers his nudity yet is still punctuated by the crown of thorns. Though bloody and beaten, tied by neck and wrist, it is, paradoxically, the hidden gaze of Christ that draws the eye and most intensifies the image. This portrait shows Jesus in both his most human and most divine aspects. This religious motif is not readily identifiable in European painting other than in Portuguese pictorial production beginning in the fifteenth century.

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