ECCE HOMO

The old Hebrew prophet who wrote of the coming Messiah predicted that he should be "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." How fully the prophecy was realized, we may read in the narrative of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

The enemies of Jesus had to deal with their prisoner according to the formality of the Roman law. They brought him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, accusing him of "perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, saying that he himself is Christ, a king."[22] The governor duly examined Jesus, but, finding no case against him, proposed to scourge him and let him go.

[22] St. Luke, chapter xxiii., verse 2.

"Then Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.

"Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying Crucify him, Crucify him."[23] Pilate again sought to release Jesus, but the people continued to clamor, "Away with him," "Crucify him." "Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified."[24]

[23] St. John, chapter xix., verses 1-6.

[24] Ib., verse 16.

The Latin form of Pilate's words, "Behold the man," has given the title "Ecce Homo" to our picture. It is the moment when Jesus comes forth from the rude mockery of the soldiers, clad in a royal robe, and wearing the crown of thorns. The governor has bidden one of the soldiers lead the prisoner out on a balcony of the palace. An eager throng of people are waiting outside, but they are not all enemies. Among them are a few faithful women, and they are allowed to press close to the balcony. At the sight of her son, treated as a criminal with bound hands, the mother, Mary, falls swooning over the balustrade, supported by a younger woman.

Pilate standing in the doorway behind appeals to the crowd: "I find no fault in him. Behold the man." He has been deeply impressed by his interview with Jesus, and is willing to do something in his behalf. His face is good-natured, we see, but with no strength of character in it. He is a handsome man with curling beard carefully trimmed, apparently not a hard man to deal with, but easy-going and selfish.

ECCE HOMO National Gallery, LondonECCE HOMO 
National Gallery, London

Jesus stands with drooping head and an expression of suffering resignation. In the menacing faces before him he sees the hatred which will be satisfied with nothing less than his death. Already he hears the cruel cry, "Crucify him, crucify him." His badge of kingship is the crown of suffering. Were his kingdom of this world, his servants would deliver him from his enemies. As the ruler of a heavenly kingdom, he was born "to bear witness unto the truth."

The rich mantle, which the soldiers have mockingly thrown over his shoulders, falls away and shows the body as it had been bared for the scourging. It is a beautiful form, perfectly developed, and the arms and hands are as delicately modelled as a woman's. The face is oval, with regular features of classic mould, a short parted beard, and long hair falling in disordered curls about it. This is the typical face of Christ, as it has been handed down from generation to generation since early in the Christian era. The rude pictures in the catacombs are on the same model. So faithfully has the type been followed through the centuries, some believe that the original must have been an authentic likeness.[25]

[25] See Rex Regum, by Sir Wyke Bayliss.

The mother Mary is still young and beautiful. As the great Michelangelo said, "Purity enjoys eternal youth."[26] A heavy veil or mantle is draped over her head, framing the pure profile of her face. This form of drapery is common among the old masters in painting Mary as Mater Dolorosa, or the Sorrowing Mother.

[26] See the volume on Michelangelo in the Riverside Art Series, page 35.

Artistically considered, this figure of the fainting mother is the finest thing in the picture. Her companion, probably Mary Magdalene, is also a lovely creature, though we see only a part of her face.

The subject is in tragic contrast to the illustrations we have just been studying. It seems strange to connect this Man of Sorrows with the happy boy we saw by the woodland spring, or this grief-stricken woman with that proud young mother. Correggio himself, we know, shrank from such sad themes.