Saint John 19:5 “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!”
The figure next to Christ with pointed hat and staff in the hand is Pontius Pilate. This can be deduced in analogy with the famous ‘Ecce Homo’ painting (ca 1480-90) from Hieronymus Bosch (Städel Museum, Frankfurt), where Pilate (who speaks the words ‘Ecce Homo’ or ‘Behold the man’) also stands behind Christ, is dressed in a very similar way and also holds the staff in his hands. He is depicted with beard and pointed Jewish hat (not as a Roman governor in Roman clothes) as was usual from 11th century onwards over Gothic period to early Renaissance.
The detail of the chained monkey under the staircase can also be found in the ‘Ecce Homo’ print of Israhel van Meckenem (ca 1445-1503). It is, therefore, in this iconographic tradition (Bosch, van Meckenem), this period (second part of 15th century) and this geographical area (Dutch-German border along the Rhine) that our painting should be placed. The prolific printmaker (who was also a goldsmith) Van Meckenem (620 engravings from his hand have been preserved) had learned printmaking from master E.S. in Southern Germany and lived the greater part of his life in Bocholt, near the Rhine and what is now the Dutch-German border. In his ‘Ecce Homo’ engraving (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Inventory number RP-P-OB-1107), we see a monkey similarly chained under the staircase in front of an iron grill, probably a window from the grim dungeon in the basement of the palace of Judaea, where those who had to be judged by Pilatus were imprisoned. In the engraving the arch under the staircase is a semi-circle, in the painting it is a quarter of a circle.
The window above the head of Pilate is also in the same position in the engraving as in the painting. Similar composition, similar details. Hence we situate our panel in the second half of the 15th century in the German-Dutch Rhine region.
The crowd is shouting “Crucify Him!”, mocking with raised arms while in the back somebody waves threateningly with an axe.
The painting illustrates the social media of 2.000 years ago: ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’. Vox Populi is not always Vox Dei.
Moreover, this work of art also confronts the onlooker with a timeless ethical dilemma: ‘Would you have done the same as the crowd?”.
Ca 1450-1500. Tempera on Baltic oak panel. Dimensions without frame: 16x12cm. With frame: 17,5 x 20cm. Very good condition. Tiny restoration to small crack in right corner, fur collar of standing figure and dress of Pilate.
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