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Statuary Christ - Ecce Homo

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Christ - Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo are the Latin words used by Pontius Pilate in the Vulgate translation of the John 19:5, when he presents a scourged Jesus Christ, bound and crowned with thorns, to a hostile crowd shortly before his Crucifixion. The original Greek is Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος (Idou ho Anthrōpos). The King James Version translates the phrase into English as Behold the Man. The scene is widely depicted in Christian art.

Artistic subject

The Ecce homo is a standard component of cycles illustrating the Passion and Life of Christ in art. It follows the Flagellation of Christ, the Crowning with thorns and the Mocking of Christ, the last two often being combined. The usual depiction shows Pilate and Christ, the mocking crowd and parts of the city of Jerusalem.

But, from the 15th century, devotional pictures began to portray Jesus alone, in half or full figure with a purple robe, loincloth, crown of thorns and torture wounds, especially on his head. Similar subjects but with the wounds of the crucifixion visible (Nail wounds on the limbs, spear wounds on the sides), are termed a Man of Sorrow(s) (also Misericordia). If the "Instruments of the Passion" are present, it may be called an Arma Christi. If Christ is sitting down (usually supporting himself with his hand on his thigh), it may be referred to it as Christ at rest or Pensive Christ. It is not always possible to distinguish these subjects.

Early depictions

The first depictions of the ecce homo scene in the arts appear in the 9th and 10th centuries in Syrian-Byzantine culture. Western depictions in the Middle Ages that often seem to depict the ecce homo scene, (and are usually interpreted as such) more often than not only show the crowning of thorns and the mocking of Christ, (cf. the Egbert Codex and the Codex Aureus Epternacensis) which precede the actual ecce homo scene in the Bible. The independent image only developed around 1400, probably in Burgundy, but then rapidly became extremely popular, especially in Northern Europe.

The motif found increasing currency as the Passion became a central theme in Western piety in the 15th and 16th centuries. The ecce homo theme was included not only in the passion plays of medieval theatre, but also in cycles of illustrations of the story of the Passion, as in the Passions of Albrecht Durer or the prints of Martin Schongauer. The scene was (especially in France) often depicted as a sculpture or group of sculptures; even altarpieces and other paintings with the motif were produced (by, for example, Hieronymus Bosch or Hans Holbein). Like the passion plays, the visual depictions of the ecce homo scene, it has been argued, often, and increasingly, portray the people of Jerusalem in a highly critical light, bordering perhaps on antisemitic caricatures. Equally, this style of art has been read as a kind of simplistic externalisation of the inner hatred of the angry crowd towards Jesus, not necessarily implying any racial judgment.

The motif of the lone figure of a suffering Christ who seems to be staring directly at the observer, enabling him/her to personally identify with the events of the Passion, arose in the late Middle Ages. A parallel development was that the similar motifs of the Man of Sorrow and Christ at rest increased in importance. The subject was used repeatedly in later prints (for example, by Jacques Callot and Rembrandt), the paintings of the Renaissance and the Baroque, as well as in Baroque sculptures.

Hieronymus Bosch painted his first ecce homo during the 1470s. He returned to the subject in 1490 to paint in a characteristically Netherlandish style, with deep perspective and a surreal ghostly image of praying monks in the lower left-hand corner.

In 1498, Albrecht Durer depicted the suffering of Christ in the ecce homo scene of his Great Passion, in unusually close relation with his self-portrait, leading to a reinterpretation of the motif as a metaphor for the suffering of the artist. James Ensor used the ecce homo motif in his ironic print Christ and the Critics (1891), in which he portrayed himself as Christ.

Recent usage

Especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, the meaning of ecce homo motif has been extended to the portrayal of suffering and the degradation of humans through violence and war. A notable 20th-century depiction is Lovis Corinth's work Ecce Homo (1925), which shows, from the perspective of the crowd, Jesus, a soldier and Pilate dressed as a physician. Following the Holocaust of World War II, Otto Dix portrayed himself as the suffering Christ in a concentration camp, in Ecce homo with self-likeness behind barbed wire (1948). The artist Joe Forkan painted a version in 2009.

By contrast, Antonio Ciseri's 1871 Ecce Homo portrayal presents a semi-photographic view of a balcony seen from behind the central figures of a scourged Christ and Pilate (whose face is not visible). The crowd forms a distant mass, almost without individuality, and much of the detailed focus is on the normally secondary figures of Pilate's aides, guards, secretary and wife.

An Ecce Homo fresco by 19th-century Spanish painter Elias Garcia Martinez recently gained notoriety when an old lady named Cecilia Gimenez took it upon herself to restore it without any training or expertise, resulting in Jesus' looking like "a very hairy monkey".

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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