Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The Fifth Station, Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross

James Tissot, Simon the Cyrenian and His Sons
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
This is the only image I have ever seen of this subject, Simon and his sons.

The writers of the three Synoptic Gospels tell us that a man named Simon from Cyrene in what is today the North African country of Libya was forced by the Romans to assist Jesus in carrying the heavy cross. 1  

St. Mark adds the interesting detail that Simon was “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21), which suggests that these were people who were well-known to the early Christian community and that this is a record of the experience of their father.   Clearly, the pressing of this man who was probably a mere bystander, by the authorities in charge of the crucifixion suggests that even they could see that Jesus was weakening and were worried that He might not be able to make it to the execution site without some help. 

Early images of the Passion that featured the figure of Simon of Cyrene were largely symbolic.  They show the cross as fairly small, a notional cross rather than a crushingly heavy one.  
Early Christian Sarcophagus with Scenes of the Passion
Late Roman, c. 350
Vatican, Pio-Christiano Museum

Simon of Cyrene, From Orationes of St. Gregory Nazianzen
Constantionople, 11th Century
Paris, Bbibliotheque nationale de France
MS Coislin 239, fol. 18v

From St. Peter Gospels
Austrian (Salzburg), 1025-1049
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M781, fol. 179v
From a Book of Hours
German (Bamberg), 1204-1219
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M739, fol. 23r

Some of them also pointedly reference the coercive character of Simon’s entry into the Passion narrative.  Simon is grabbed by his hair or by his wrists in the process.
From a Psalter
German or Swiss, 1208-1228
New York,  Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G8, fol. 9v
Here Simon is being grabbed by his hair.

Queen Mary Master, From Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), 1310-1320
London, British Library
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol. 252v
In this detail, Simon is being dragged by his wrist from the representation of a building.
Around 1400 the mood changes and Simon is now seen as being somewhat willing to assist Jesus.  Both he and the activity begin to be less notional and more realistic, hence more affective to the viewer, who can now begin to put himself or herself into the scene.  
Wall painting
German, 1401-1500
Ueffeln, Marienkirche

Follower of the Master of the Lorsch Calvary
German (Middle Rhineland), c.1440
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection

Master of Marguerite d'Orleans
From Hours of Marie de Rieux
French (Poitiers), 1440-1450
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M190, fol. 47r

Anonymous Carver
German (Tyrol), 1451-1500
Sterzing, Parish Church Unsere Liebe Frau
 im Moos & Santa Maria in Vipitin
Close ups of the heads of Jesus and of Simon are astonishingly lifelike.
This change would have been in keeping with the well-known affectively to late medieval religious sentiment.  It is also around this time that the Stations of the Cross began to gain in popularity and participation.

High Altar of the Cross
German (Thüringia), 1460
 Erfurt, Evangelical Reglerkirche (formerly Saint Augustine)

Masters of the Delft Half-Length Figures
From Book of Hours
Dutch (Delft), c. 1460-1480
TheHague, Koninklkjk Bibliotheek
MS KB131 G 8, fol. 31r

Master of Charles of Neufchatal, From Book of Hours
French, 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M28, fol. 19r

Master of the Boston City of God
From Book of Hours
Holland (Utrecht), c.1470
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 131 G 4, 57v

Jean Colombe, From Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M677, fol. 192r

Circle of Master of Delft
Dutch, c.1500
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Raphael, Procession to Calvary
Italian, 1504,
London, National Gallery
In the sixteenth century artists began to examine the intimacy of the connection between Jesus and the man who is helping him.  Simon appears as a devoted and sympathetic actor in a two person drama.
Sebastiano del Piombo
Italian, c.1516
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Italian, c.1565
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Later images seem to vacillate between the extremes of indifference and compassion. 

James Tissot, Simon the Cyrenian Compelled to Carry the Cross with Jesus
From Series of Life of Christ
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
In spite of Tissot's title in is a bit difficult to tell exactly which figure is Simon.  I suspect it is the man in the middle ground, dressed partially in blue, who is holding out his arms, as a guard points to the cross.
Eric Gill
English, 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral
©M. Duffy, 2016
1.  Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26.  The Gospel of John is silent.

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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