by Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891),
Oil on canvas,
Painted circa 1871
© Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Lugano, Switzerland
The world hated me before you
John 15: 18-21
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well. But it will be on my account that they will do all this, because they do not know the one who sent me.’
Reflection on the Painting
‘The world hated me before you’. Here we see Pontius Pilate showing Jesus to the people, and we all know what happened next. Whilst the dominating figures in this composition are Christ and Pilate, they both have their backs turned to us, so just as the two of them, we as a viewer are actually invited through them to look at the facial expressions of the crowd… and we do see the hatred Jesus mentions in today’s gospel!
Ciseri was born in Switzerland in 1821 and worked with startling realism that comes in part from his sensitivity to light interactions: the whole foreground of the figures on the balcony is set in shadowy tones, the crowd who ultimately decide on the fate of Christ and thus the most important players in this narrative, are set in light. Especially the ‘contre jour’ (against daylight) handling of the light in Pontius Pilate’s cloak is beautifully executed with extreme attention to the transmitted and penetrating light through various layers of fabric. This achievement of striking detail might have been aided by photography; the painting is from 1871, when many artists were using photographs (a very new medium then) as aids to achieve technical detail in their painting. Ciseri’s paintings are almost Raphaelesque in their composition, set up as stage-like, theatrical compositions. He mainly painted religious scenes and fulfilled many important commissions for churches in Switzerland and Italy.
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