Crucifixion in the Time of the Romans,
Painted by Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1887
© Christie's London, Sale 28 November 2011, lot 41, sold £1,7 million

Crucifixion in the Time of the Romans,
Painted by Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1887
© Christie's London, Sale 28 November 2011, lot 41, sold £1,7 million

Gospel of 23 April 2020

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too

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

'If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too'… words Jesus shares with us in today's Gospel reading. Our painting shows Jesus on the cross on the right side. In direct contrast to traditional depictions of the Crucifixion which are normally placed at the very centre of the work, our Russian painter of today, Vereshchagin, positions Christ, illuminated, on the extreme right of the painting, placing the primary emphasis of the composition on the crowd… the crowds who wanted Jesus to die. We as a viewer become part of this crowd. This is especially also due the monumental size of the painting at 301 x 401.3 cm. (118½ x 158 in.). The painting masterfully depicts and interrogates the nature and behaviour of mankind. Would we have stood in the crowds as well and simply looked on, peering over the hordes of people and horses to see the spectacle?

A large dark sky makes up about half the surface of the painting. Pharisees and a distraught group of Christ's supporters can be seen, women crying, Roman soldiers with their spears and lances standing ready to quieten any disorder that may arise, etc… plenty for us to look at and contemplate. The background of this painting has also to be seen in the context that pilgrimages from Russia to the Holy Land were promoted heavily and successfully at the time this was painted, to the extent that some 10,000 citizens of the Russian Empire were making this journey annually by the end of the 19th century.

Not everyone accepts Jesus, which was the experience from the start, as depicted in our painting. This non acceptance led Christ to a cruel death…

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