Friday, March 29, 2013

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery – The Carrying of the Cross

Giotto, Via Crucis
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel

"Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha."

(John 19:16-17, Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ According to John, Reading for Good Friday)

Every one of the Gospels includes the story of the Carrying of the Cross, though they differ slightly in one detail. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) include the story of Simon the Cyrenean, a man plucked from the street to carry the cross, presumably because Jesus was so weakened by the tortures He had received that He was unable to bear that burden by Himself. The writer of the Gospel of John seems to have considered this a somewhat irrelevant detail and is, in fact, at pains to state that Jesus carried the cross Himself. Tradition has conflated the two points of view and insists that both things happened. Jesus began carrying the cross Himself, but that after falling several times (a detail not found in any Gospel) Simon was impressed by the soldiers to carry the heavy load.

Images of the Carrying of the Cross (also called the Via Crucis) can generally be divided into two categories: narrative images and devotional images. The narrative images relate at least some of the details of the journey to Calvary (Golgotha) and involve other individuals. The specific incidents and number of people involved vary considerably, however. It may be as few as one person or a cast of thousands.
Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Belgium (Hainaut), ca. 1395-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquistion francaise 16251, fol. 37v

Simone Martini
Italian, 1333
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Jean le Noir, from Petites heures de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), ca. 1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18014, fol. 86v (detail)
Hans Memling, Scenes from the Passion (detail)
Flemish, 1470-1471
Turin, Galleria Sabauda
Adam Dircksz, Prayer Nut
Dutch, ca. 1500
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Italian, 1520
Cremona, Cathedral

Matthias Gruenwald
German, 1523-1524
Karlsruhe, Kunsthalle

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Italian, 1737-1738
Venice, Church of Sant'Alvise
James Tissot
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Sometimes the actual action of carrying the cross seems lost in a vast quantity of other incidents going on at the same time.

Hieronymous Bosch
Dutch, 1480s
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Perhaps the best known of these images is that of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In keeping with some other images by him, the actual event seems almost buried among the day-to-day goings on of the indifferent world.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Flemish, 1564
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

The devotional image, however, is much simpler and quieter. It generally involves the action of only two individuals – Jesus with his cross and the viewer who gazes on the painting. Jesus is posed in a solitary space, usually against a simple background, though sometimes in a landscape. It is to some extent a vision of Christ close in spirit, if not in form, to an icon. It is for contemplation and prayer.
Alvise Vivarini
Italian, No Date (died in 1503)
Venice, Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Jan Gossaert
Flemish, 1520-1525
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

El Greco
Greco-Spanish, 1590s
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

There are a few images that seem to combine elements of both. Among them are works by Hieronymous Bosch and Titian. These works include the multiple figures of the narrative, but presented in a way that opens us up to the same contemplation and prayer as the quieter devotional works. Sometimes there is an almost claustrophobic character to them that is unpleasant for the viewer. In this way, the painter may have hoped to arouse feelings of empathy in Christ’s pain in our own hearts.

Hieronymous Bosch
Dutch, 1515-1516
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten

Lorenzo Lotto
Italian, 1526
Paris,  Musée du Louvre

Italian, ca. 1565
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Italian, 1570-1575
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

All the images make worthy points for meditation on this Mystery.

© M. Duffy, 2013

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