Wooden bust of Ecce Homo

_0002.TIF inv 44937

Inventory Number: 44937

This polychrome wooden sculpture depicts the bust of Christ with his arms crossed in front of his chest, his beautiful face gaunt with his distinctively sharp cheekbones. Christ’s physical appearance recalls the Byzantine tradition with big eyes, a straight nose, long hair parted in the middle, and a mustache and beard that is divided into two strands on the chin. A large purple robe is draped across his chest and is thrown over his shoulder. The crown of thorns, tilted to one side, weighs heavily on his head. Drops of blood litter his forehead and the rest of the bust. This image represents a particular moment of the Passion, relayed in tragic detail in the Gospel of John. Accused of having proclaimed himself the King of the Jews, Christ is delivered to the Roman procurator of Judea, Pilate. Pilate, believing him to be innocent, did not want to sentence him to death and instead subjected him to flogging. The Roman soldiers beat, insult and mock Jesus, dressing him as a king in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. Thus attired, wounded and bleeding, Pilate reveals Jesus to the crowd proclaiming: “Behold the Man “ (John 19: 5). But the crowd continued in its determination to accuse Jesus. Then Pilate, washing the blood of the innocent from his hands, turns Jesus over to the Jews. This bust of Christ is notable for its naturalism.

Christ’s torso is carefully formed and his muscles softly built. The position of his arms sug- gests that his wrists are tied together with rope, as is frequently shown in other wooden sculptures of the same subject. The sculptor accentuates the bloodiness of the Passion of Christ, while capturing  the  subtle  melancholy  that  reveals Christ’s serene acceptance of his fate. Christ’s downward gaze involves the viewer emotionally in the scene, drawing attention to the wounds the artist so carefully rendered. The sweetness of the facial features and the fluidity of the bust’s soft naturalism indicate that it is the work of an unknown sculptor from central Italy, perhaps between Umbria and Marche, in the early decades of the 16th century. Statues of this kind are deeply tied to the Passion and were mainly used during Lenten processions on Good Friday.