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.
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37For what can a man give in return for his life? 38For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
9 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
23 And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. 25For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”