Jesus Carrying the Cross

Jesus Carrying the Cross, oil on linen, life-size figures

I finished this painting a while ago.  Completed within a year, the scale is a bit over life size.  The image was worked up using a variety of models and a lot of imagination.  The picture is now sitting in storage.  Hopefully it will find a home someday.

This is a very personal picture that is an expression of my spiritual journey.  More specifically it is an investigation into my relationship with faith and Christ.  The formal characteristics are important to the meaning.  I placed myself in the painting with a self portrait as a roman centurion holding the rope.

Detail of Centurion

The composition is an circular with the movement guided by a play of gesture and hands. The two protagonists of the picture(the roman soldier and Christ) both embrace the cross in completely opposite ways.  They relate to each other through the cross but have no direct contact.  The soldier is engaged the ambiguous activity of either raising or lowering the cross.  The ambiguity is important as it reflects my personal state.

Christ embraces the cross.  He bears the weight without strain.  His portrait is the visual hub of the composition with the cross acting as the spokes of the wheel.

Detail of Jesus

The other two figures, St. John and the Madonna flank the scene.  St. John whispers into the soldiers ear, a precursory act to the spreading of the good news that he is destined to diseminate later.  The Holy Mother is visually isolated from the scene by the cross and quietly grieves.  Her emotive presence bridges the void between the works of Christ(symbolized by his hands, one active and the other passive) and the work of man(symbolized by the hand pulling the rope).  Mary is consoled by a divine light that falls from the break in the clouds.


Creating the painting

As it sometimes happens, after a couple years of reflection the composition came to me quite spontaneously.  I produced a thumbnail sketch after a nap under a cypress tree outside of the gate of San Niccolo in Florence.  The drawing has gone missing in the meantime.

After preparing the canvas I sketched the main elements of the composition in directly from my imagination.  As you can see, in the original concept Jesus was seated with a different arm position.  The gesture emphasized a tired Jesus and the rear figure was more actively raising the cross.

Charcoal sketch on canvas

The model for Jesus was the same architecture student(Alfredo Pace, now architect) that posed for my painting of Jesus in the Garden of Olives.

Jesus in the Garden of Olives, oil on linen, 70cm x 90cm(life size)

He posed holding a l cross that I constructed and was set up along side of the canvas as you can see in the photo below.  Another model posed for the arms of the soldier and I painted in my self portrait from a study.  The Holy Mother in the picture below was developed from my imagination.  Later I brought in a model to develop her in oil.  St John was originally supposed to be another soldier holding a lance rising up from the center rear.

Initial stages in oil

At this point I had changed the torso angle of the soldier to reduce the thrust to the left and therefore transformed the meaning of the picture.  With the new torso angle, the lowered arm of the Jesus mimicked excessively the right (our left) arm of the soldier.  The facture of any painting involves a series of decisions that combine the formal, thematic and ultimately emotive aspects of the work.  Subject, form and meaning are so closely intertwined that one element cannot be changed without affecting the whole.

Painting in progress

I changed the gesture of Jesus to take a more active role.  Instead of a tired man resigned to his fate, he actively embraces it.  He is kneeling with his right leg about to push himself back on his feet.  The final change was to the other leg.  It became more bent and foreshortened to help bring Jesus forward in the picture and reinforce to potential movement upwards.  This helped create a movement in a counterclockwise direction.  The new movement ultimately redeems the soldier as it reinforces the possibility that he is trying to help Jesus raise the cross.

In progress

Over the course of the completion of the picture a spiritual research corresponded with the development of the painting.  It included study, reflection on the gospels and the Stations of the Cross, and meditation. Very little is written about Jesus’s actual bearing of the Cross in the Gospels.  That is one of the reasons I was drawn to this subject.  It is a powerful moment in the life of Christ and merited to be explored.

Painting towards the end

For the goal of the sacred artist is not to illustrate the gospels but to be an image creator whose work communicates the richness and profundity that its subject matter deserves.

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