The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook)

The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook) f. 27r, Christ before Pilate


f. 27r, Christ before Pilate

Inside the praetorium, a bleeding Christ with a purple tunic, a crown of thorns and his hands together, is brought by a soldier before Pilate, depicted in a regal stance seated, facing forwards and virtually hieratical. The Roman procurator, holding a large staff of command in the crook of his right arm, looks directly at the spectator and stretches his hands out to a servant holding a basin and jug from which he pours out water. He is flanked by armed soldiers. The throne, covered in a blue cloth of honour, is made of wood and has two stone steps.

Hand washing was a Hebrew, not a Roman, gesture. After someone died, it was customary for the Jews presumably involved with the death to wash their hands to affirm their innocence (Dt. 21: 6-8). Unlike the previous scene, lacking any deep-rooted tradition, the episode of Pilate washing his hands had appeared as early as the 4th century. In a miniature from the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis (f. 8v) and in one of the mosaics in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna from the early 6th century, the priests accusing Christ are combined with the hand-washing scene. This theme was common in western Roman art. The two scenes are brought together in the Hours of Joanna of Castile: the soldiers bringing Christ before Pilate and the Roman procurator washing his hands; the Jewish accusers are absent. In southern Europe this scene does not appear very often until the Gothic period. In the late Middle Ages, almost all the Passion altars feature the hand washing scene.

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