Made of white marbelized resin and cast from a human figure, Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo presents a different image of Christ from earlier representations of the moment when Pilate presents Christ to the crowd (John 19:4–6). Rather than an image of a suffering Christ in the Man of Sorrows tradition, Wallinger presents us with a serene Christ, his eyes closed, his flesh free from the wounds inflicted at the flagellation, the perfection of his skin emphasized by the marble-like quality of the resin.
While the face and body are calm, Christ’s suffering is acknowledged by the crown of thorns rendered in gold-plated barbed wire, the horror of which is emphasized by the contrast with his porcelain skin. The only other reference to the events that preceded this moment are Christ’s hands, bound behind his back, but these hands rest calmly in their shackles, palms open, the fingers relaxed.
Conceived in 1999 for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, Ecce Homo appeared again in 2017, this time on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Its reappearance was the result of a collaboration between the cathedral and Amnesty International.
Once again, this life-size figure of Christ could be found in a public forum, the steps and portico of St Paul’s standing in for Pilate’s palace, and the passing public occupying the role of the crowd. In this setting Wallinger’s figure emanated a sense of calm, the closed eyes and passive face suggesting that while he waits for us to pass judgement, he has already come to terms with what is to come.
As Wallinger acknowledged in 2001, ‘For a believer this is the moment when the human Christ faces up to his divine destiny. For the nonbeliever this is the point when a political prisoner … is placed before a lynch mob’ (Mason 2001: 24). This duality is amplified by Amnesty International’s involvement in the 2017 installation at St Paul’s, prompting the viewer to consider the plight of all prisoners and giving an extra layer of meaning to the barbed wire that both crowns Christ and encircles the candle of Amnesty International’s logo.
Koestlé-Cate, Jonathan. 2016. ‘Blind Faith in the City: Mark Wallinger and the Religious Imaginary’, in Visualising a Sacred City: London, Art and Religion, ed. by Ben Quash, Aaron Rosen, Chloë Reddaway (London: I.B. Tauris), pp. 295–308
Mason, Andrea. 2001. ‘Ecce “Oxymoron”’, The Art Newspaper, 120: 24
4Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”