Thursday, March 10, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The First Station, Jesus Is Condemned to Death

Masters of the Gold Scrolls, Jesus is Condemned to Death
From Hours of the Cross from Book of Hours
Flanders, c.1450
The  Hague, Meermano Westreenianum Museum
MS MMW 10 E 2, fol. 73v



All of the Gospels make it clear that the actual sentence of death on Jesus was delivered by the Roman prefect (governor) of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus (Pontius Pilate).1  Each Gospel also gives some account of Pilate as he confronted Jesus and his accusers and each implies some reluctance on Pilate’s part to sentence what he seemed to perceive as an innocent man to death.  But, in the end, he does sentence Him.

Where the Gospels differ is in how the interaction between Jesus and Pilate played out.  In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, there seems to be only one interview, after which Pilate tries to obtain His release, but eventually makes an unwilling judgment of death.   In the Gospel of Luke Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who also questions Him, then sends Him back, at which time Pilate tries to obtain the release, but eventually makes the judgment.  In the Gospel of John, there are two dialogues between Jesus and Pilate, in between these Pilate has Jesus scourged and then presents him to the crowd in what has become known as the Ecce Homo.  Only after this and the second dialogue does Pilate give his solemn decision “on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha” (John 19: 13).
Workshop of Boucicaut Master, Jesus is Condemned
From Book of Hours
French (Paris), 14115-25
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1000, fol. 20v









These slightly different motions during the dreadful morning of Good Friday have come to us through the narrative sense of artists as different images.   There are images of the scourging of Jesus, of His crowning with thorns, of the moment of the Ecce Homo and of the moment of the condemnation, with or without the detail of Pilate washing his hands. Some of these we have looked at already, Scourging and Crowning and Ecce Homo.  It is the last of them that we shall be looking at in this essay about the first of the fourteen Stations of the Cross.








The earliest images of the judgment of Pilate come to us from a period in which the Roman Empire was still alive and functioning in most of the same territory as it had in the time of Jesus and its laws and law courts were still functioning as well.  The artists who created it were, therefore, drawing on the lived experience of their own day for inspiration.
Early Christian Sarcophagus with Scenes of the Passion
Roman, c.350
Vatican City, Pio-Christiano Museum

A sarcophagus, dated around 350 AD and now in the Vatican Museums, shows three scenes from the Passion spread over four panels, two on either side of a central Chi Rho medallion.  The two panels at the right side form the scene of the Condemnation.  
Detail:  Early Christian Sarcophagus
with Scenes of the Passion
Roman, c.350
Vatican City, Pio-Christiano Museum




Pilate sits on the far right side, within an arcade, which stands in front of a building.  He turns his head aside, perhaps to indicate his unwillingness to pronounce this judgment.  Beside him sits another official and to the left of the panel is a servant about to pour the water.  In the left hand panel, Jesus stands next to a soldier.  He makes a gesture indicating speech with His right hand and in His left holds a book scroll.1   








There is also an ivory carving from a casket, dated about seventy years later, but still well within the time in which the Empire, though recently hit by the early barbarian raids, was still intact.  Currently in the British Museum, it shows a similar scene.  Here Pilate sits on an elevated chair as a servant pours water over his hands.  To his right Jesus, already carrying the cross, is led away by a soldier, while at the far right we can see the maid servant accusing Peter of being a disciple, as Peter, seated before a small brazier fire, gestures his denial and a cock above his head crows.  2
Jesus Is Condemned to Death
Ivory Panels from a Casket
Late Roman, 420-30
London, British Museum

These early images set the iconography for the images that came after.  There is almost always a special chair, sometimes amounting to a throne, on which Pilate sits and a soldier or soldiers standing next to Jesus.


Jesus is Condemned to Death
From Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 20v (Detail)
Jesus is Condemned to Death
From Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1230-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
M M280, fol. 4r






















Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Book of HoursBelgian (Liege), 1250-1300
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 76 G 17, fol. 161v
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
Italian, 1403-1424
Florence, Baptistry






















In some images Pilate washes his hands, requiring the presence of a servant, in other images he does not. 

Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Meditations on the Passion of Christ
by Christine de Pisan
French, 1450-1470
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB  73 J 55, fol. 71r
Master of Ushaw 10, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Book of Hours
Flemish, 1400-1409
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M259, fol. 28v

























In the early Middle Ages the number of figures is restricted to a minimum, increasing to a crowd during the Renaissance.  While the figure of Jesus was always treated in a way which preserved an “antique” look, i.e., in a simple full length tunic, the figures of Pilate and the soldiers and servant often appeared in clothing that was contemporary with the date of the image.

Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From  Pelerinage de Jesus-Christ by Guillaume de Digulleville
French (Rennes), 1425-1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 376, fol. 223

Donatello, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Passion Pulpit
Italian, 1460-1465
Florence, Church of  San Lorenzo


Rambures Master, Jesus Is Condemned to Death (central image)
From Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c.1470
The Hague, Meermano Westreenianum Museum
MS MMW 10 A 15, fol. 30v

Workshop of Jean Colombe, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Book of Hours
French (Bourges), 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 330, fol. 35r
Giovanni Todeschino, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Hours of Frederic d'Aragon
French (Tours), 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 182

























Master of Girard Acarie, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
From Poeme sur la Passion
French (Rouen), 1525-1535
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M147, fol.  15r

Tintoretto, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
Italian, 1566-1567
Venice, Scuola Grande di San Rocco


























The nineteenth century saw a more realistic and archaeologically accurate attitude appear, so that the world of first century Roman Judaea was fully imagined and all the figures appeared in first century garb.
James Tissot, The Judgment on the Gabbatha
From the Life of Jesus Christ
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
With the start of the twentieth century, and the growing importance of abstraction, the image was again stripped to the essentials it had at the beginning.
Eric Gill, Jesus Is Condemned to Death
English, 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral
© M. Duffy, 2016
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 1.   For information about Pilate, who was governor of Judaea from 26-36 during the reign of Tiberius, see:    http://www.britannica.com/biography/Pontius-Pilate

2.   Spier, Jeffrey, et al.  Picturing the Bible, The Earliest Christian Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, in Association with the Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth.  Catalog of the exhibition of November 18, 2007 – March 30, 2008, #46, pp. 219-220.        

3.   Ibid, #91, pp. 229-232.


Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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