Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 175v: Pilate washing his hands; Jesus condemned to die on the cross (Matt. 27: 24-25 and John 19: 16-17)


f. 175v: Pilate washing his hands; Jesus condemned to die on the cross (Matt. 27: 24-25 and John 19: 16-17)

“The story above is this: How Pilate washes his hands before the people and says, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man. Thus says Saint Matthew in his Gospel in the twenty-seventh chapter. And this story of Jesus is this: How Our Lord Jesus Christ carrying his cross was led to be crucified. Thus says Saint John in his Gospel in the nineteenth chapter.”

The double paraphrase beneath this painted page is based on two different Gospels. The fortified city of Jerusalem is an opportunity to combine the two parts of the narrative in a single image by situating them in a logical position one above the other. The houses and public buildings at the top of the citadel (shown with one wall diverging from the diagonal line to create an artificial perspective) are seen from the front, open like niches inhabited by generic human figures. The people of Jerusalem are represented by three youths and an old man leans over the ramparts to watch Christ setting off from the city towards Golgotha. The man signifies the crowd that Pilate called to witness when the people forced him to betray Jesus, thereby engaging the responsibility of the children of Israel, “I wash my hands of his blood. It is your doing!”, to which the people replied as one, “His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matt. 27: 24-25). Further to the right, Pilate holds his hands in the water flowing from a silver jug to wash his hands of this terrible crime. The servant stands with a towel over his shoulder for his master to dry his hands and catches the water in a platter. Between them is another old man, probably a temple dignitary, watching the governor of Rome’s ablutions.
Our Lady weeps in the lower register as she goes out through the city gate with one of Christ’s faithful companions. Three blank areas visible behind Mary’s nimbus and the red veil of the woman following her show where the colours intended for the heads in the background were not applied to the base coat. Mary wants to approach her son who looks straight at her, but one of the guards pushes her away with his large, red shield and Our Lady holds out her open arms resignedly. Jesus is led off to Calvary carrying his own cross with two other prisoners alongside. The leader of the cohort moves forward holding the end of a rope tied round the Messiah’s neck in his hand. The other figure amongst the rows of helmeted soldiers surrounding the prisoners must be Simon, the man from Cyrene mentioned in Matthew 27: 32, Mark 15: 21 and Luke 23: 26 who helped Jesus carry the instrument of his torture.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume


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