Friday, March 29, 2013

The Third Sorrowful Mystery – The Crowning with Thorns

Caravaggio, Crowning with thorns
Italian, 1602
Prato, Cassa di Risparmi

"And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly."
(John 19:2-3)

It has always seemed to me that the decades of the Rosary are structured in a very defined way. Like the most important intervals in the musical scale, the first, third and fifth decades of each series of Mysteries have always seemed to focus on the most important of the scenes that they bring to memory. In the Joyful Mysteries the third is the Birth of Jesus. In the Glorious Mysteries the third is the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). It seems, therefore, odd that the third of the Sorrowful Mysteries is not the Crucifixion, but the Crowning with Thorns. For example, I can easily imagine a scenario in which the Crucifixion is the third, followed by the Descent from the Cross and the Entombment.

But, on reflection, I realized that the traditional list of the Sorrowful Mysteries actually does make sense. The Crowning with Thorns has something very important to teach us. For, the cruel mockery devised by the Roman soldiers is the inversion and perversion of the actual truth. In their twisted way they demonstrate the reality they did not recognize. Jesus is a king, greater than any they could imagine. His kingdom, as he told Pilate, is not of this world and it is achieved, not through dealing out violence as a conqueror, but through receiving the violence of his tormentors; not through self-aggrandizement, but through humiliation; not through subjecting others but in subjecting His human will to the Father’s divine will. It is, therefore, indeed the pinnacle of the Sorrowful Mysteries, that makes sense of the two preceeding mysteries and of the two that follow it.

The iconography of the subject of the crowning with thorns is related to three other subjects that I discussed in 2012: the Mocking of Christ, the Ecce Homo and the Man of Sorrows. All three of these subjects, however, look at Jesus following the crowning. Here I will look at some pictures that show the action of the crowning.

Early images are often static, showing Christ seated, while the soldiers beat on His head to force the thorns in deeper.
The Crowning with Thorns
From Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 35v

Crowning with thorns, from Speculum humanae salvationis
France (Alsace), 1370-1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 511, fol. 21v (detail)

Crowing with thorns, from Pelerinage du Jesu-Christ
by Guillaume de Deguville
France (Rennes), 1425-1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 376, fol. 216
Master of the Dresden Prayerbook, The Crowning with Thorns and the Ecce Homo
From the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castille
Flemish, c. 1497
London, British Library
MS Additional 18851, fol. 103v

Titian appears to have revised this, as he revised so many other images. In his several images of the crowning he introduces, through effects of light and shadow and motion recognition of the pain that this act must have caused and the violence of the attack.

Titian, Crowning with thorns
Italian, 1542
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Titian, Crowning with thorns
Italian, 1572-1576
Munich, Alte Pinakotek

These elements were picked up on by his younger north Italian compatriot, Caravaggio,
Caravaggio, Crowning with thorns
Italian, 1602-1603
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
and, through his followers, to the greater European context. 

Valentin de Boulogne, Crowning with thorns
French, No Date (died 1632)
Munich, Alte Pinakotek
Anthony van Dyck, Crowning with thorns
Flemish, 1618-1620
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

© M. Duffy, 2013

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