The Latin title 'Ecce Homo' is taken from the Bible, and means 'Behold the man!' These words were said by Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus, as it is told in the Gospel of Saint John (19: 5). Pilate presents Christ to the people, who, urged on by their priests, demand his execution, insisting that they have no king but Caesar. In the painting the clock is at the sixth hour. The bust is that of Caesar and represents the Roman state. The priests, who press the staff of judgement upon Pilate, are caricatured by Rembrandt as wholly despicable characters.
This monochrome work is called a 'grisaille'. It is the preparatory study for an etching made by Rembrandt in 1635. The grisaille was laid onto the etching plate and the design transferred with a stylus. It is the only known example of a full-scale preparatory study for an etching.
Rembrandt, who is the most famous Dutch painter of the 17th century, was also a prolific and accomplished printmaker. His prints were widely collected and occasionally sold for higher prices than some of his paintings.