Tied to a column, Christ has collapsed to the floor. His limp body, tilted head and pained expression show his exhaustion and suffering. Velázquez shows the moment after the Flagellation, when Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers – we can see the sticks and whip they used lying in the foreground. The brutality of this assault is implied by trickles and spots of blood on Christ’s body and the column.
Kneeling beside Christ is a young boy representing the Christian Soul and its Guardian Angel. The angel gently directs the boy to consider the suffering of Christ, and a ray of light radiates from Christ’s head towards the boy’s heart.
In the seventeenth century worshippers were encouraged to meditate on Christ’s Passion (his torture and crucifixion) and to imagine that they were present at the events leading up to the Crucifixion.
Tied to a column, Christ has collapsed to the floor, a noose hanging around his neck. His limp body, tilted head and pained expression show his exhaustion and suffering. We see the moment after the Flagellation, when Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers – the sticks and whip they used to beat him lie in the foreground.
The brutality of this assault is implied by spots and trickles of blood on Christ’s body and the column, the worst being hidden in the shadows and on the frayed rope and broken twigs. The plain space and deep shadow draw our attention towards Christ, whose head lies at the centre of two diagonals, at the very heart of this composition.
It’s an unusual focus: paintings often show Christ being beaten by his tormentors rather than the moment after they leave. Here Christ is accompanied by a young boy representing the Christian Soul and its Guardian Angel. The angel leans over and gently directs the boy to consider the suffering of Christ; he kneels, with his hands clasped in prayer, and gazes at him with a sorrowful expression. As Christ looks towards the boy, a ray of light radiates from his head, towards the boy’s heart. The combination of Christ, the angel and the Soul is rarely seen in paintings, though a few examples can be found by seventeenth-century artists working in Seville, where Velázquez spent his early career.
In religious paintings such as Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Velázquez combines the everyday with a scene from the Bible. Here the subject is religious and, although Christ is accompanied by allegorical figures, they all seem so lifelike and human, their emotions heartfelt.
During the Catholic Reformation, images of Christ tied to the column became objects of devotion, either intended for a chapel or for private contemplation. The Church taught that meditation on the Passion was necessary for salvation; worshippers were encouraged to imagine that they were present at events leading up to the Crucifixion.
Velázquez was appointed court painter in 1623, after which he made very few religious works, his time being mostly taken up with painting portraits of the royal household. This painting was probably made around 1628–9, just before Velázquez’s first trip to Italy between 1629 and 1630, but it has also been dated to his Italian stay and to the period immediately following, once he had returned to Madrid. The fact that it is painted on the reddish-brown ground typical of Velázquez before his trip to Italy, suggests a date before 1629.
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