Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent - Christ Before Pilate

Title: Christ before Pilate
Artist: Jacopo Tintoretto
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 515 x 380 cm
Date: 1566-67
Location: Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice.

Matthew 27:12-26 - When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. “Crucify him!” They all answered. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

This part of Matthew's account has less to do with Jesus than with Pilate: it is not Jesus but the character of Pilate that is on trial. Though Pilate knows the unjust motivation of the charges and receives a divine warning, political expediency takes precedence over justice. Are we also guilty of the same crime whenever we side with views because they are popular in our society or political party even though we know that someone is suffering unjustly? The hearing is swift not only because Pilate is more concerned with his political position than with justice, but also because Jesus refuses to defend himself. By Roman law, a defendant who refused to make a defense was assumed guilty.

Tintoretto (September 1518 – May 1594) also known as Jacopo Robusti or Jacopo Comin, was an Italian painter and a notable exponent of the Venetian Renaissance school. Tintoretto decorated the walls of the Sala dell'Albergo by paintings showing important moments from the Passion of Christ and he finished them in the early months of 1567.The most admired has always been Christ before Pilate. In a very fine and measured luministic web the figure of Christ, wrapped in a white mantle, stands out like a shining blade against the crowd and the architectural scenery. He is centered by a bright ray of light and stands tall in front of Pilate who is portrayed in red robes and as if sunk in shadows. Taking up the idea of Carpaccio in his St Ursula cycle, Tintoretto portraits the old secretary at the foot of Pilate's throne. He leans against a stool covered with dark green cloth and with great diligent enthusiasm notes down every moment, every word spoken by the judge amid the murmurings of the pitiless crowd which obstinately clamors for the death of Christ.

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