The Carrying of the Cross by Simone Martini

Simone Martini

The Carrying of the Cross, c.1335, Tempera on panel, 30 x 20 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, INV. 670 bis, Photo: Gérard Blot, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

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If Any Would Come After Me

Commentary by
Read by Chloë Reddaway

Sienese Master Simone Martini painted this wing of a small double-sided quadriptych, a private devotional work made for a member of the Orsini family. Now dismembered, it originally also comprised images of The Crucifixion, The Descent from the Cross, The Entombment, and The Annunciation.

Simone was influential in the development of the International Gothic style—this graceful and elegant style is evident here, typified by fine lines and a refined, colourful palette.

The number of densely packed figures incorporated in this small work is striking. The crowd includes Jesus (at centre), soldiers with spears, inhabitants of Jerusalem, and disciples—mostly women. They are all on the way to Calvary. We see the stern faces of those who want Jesus killed; the bewilderment of two frightened children; and the loyalty of those who have believed in him as the Messiah, Saviour, and king of Israel. These latter have stood by his side and will do so on Golgotha (and beyond, after the resurrection).

In other words, this crowd includes examples of both groups of whom Jesus speaks in the Gospels: those who were ashamed of Jesus and his words, of whom the Son of man will also be ashamed when he ‘comes in glory’, as well as those holy ones who would ‘not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power’ (Mark 9:1 NRSV).

Unlike many other depictions of Jesus and his disciples, the prominence of Jesus’s female disciples, including his mother Mary, is somewhat remarkable here. Most striking among these is the figure of Mary Magdalene in red who stands above the crowd with arms raised and a deeply pained expression. She is almost pinioned by the cross, the colour of her clothes echoing (even more vibrantly) the red of Jesus’s garment. The one who loved Jesus most, and who would be the first to witness his resurrection is not only in agony over her beloved friend’s and Saviour’s imminent death but symbolizes with her outstretched arms and open palms what Jesus had asked of his disciples: a readiness to take up the cross, and to follow him; a willingness to suffer for one’s faith in this Messiah, and the kingdom he promises.

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