Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641) vividly illustrates the cruelty during the crowning and robing in the common hall, as it is described in Matthew 27:27–31. In this interpretation of the narrative, a wearied, seated Christ occupies the central composition, surrounded by the soldiers of Pontius Pilate. An armour-clad figure sets a thorny crown on Christ’s head, while another man places a reed as a sceptre in his left hand. Christ is naked to the waist and turns his head to his left in humble resignation. His wrists are bound with a rope that falls loosely in his lap and coils on the floor beneath. As described in the biblical passage, the captors taunt him with the words, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
The drama of the episode is enhanced by the curious onlookers, who strain to view the scene through the barred window at left. Technical evidence reveals that Van Dyck added these figures in a later stage of the painting’s production. An earlier version of this painting (destroyed, Berlin, 1945), included a more imposing Roman soldier. Pentimenti in the Prado version indicate it originally had two soldiers at left, but Van Dyck painted them out, instead adding the barking spaniel in the lower corner, distinctly similar to the animal in Peter Paul Rubens’s Raising of the Cross (Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp).
Below the window, a beastly looking torturer lunges toward Christ, but seems to hesitate before striking him (John 19:3). The figure at the far right of the composition stretches his arms apart in a gesture of astonishment. These two figures, as well as the individuals peering through the window, suggest an element of hesitation and even wonderment not always seen in visual representations of Christ’s mocking. Is it possible that these men sense something of Jesus’s words to Pilate, ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world’ (John 19:36)? By incorporating these ambiguous gestures, might Van Dyck be suggesting a moment of dawning revelation on the part of the Roman soldiers?
Barnes, Susan J., et al. 2004. Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Haven: Yale University Press), pp. 39–40
Martin, John Rupert, and Gail Feigenbaum. 1979. Van Dyck as Religious Artist (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 20–35, 60–73
Vergara, Alejandro, and Friso Lammertse (eds). 2012. The Young Van Dyck (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado), pp. 224–27
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 29and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the whole battalion. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him. 18And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. 2And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; 3they came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.