James Tissot’s watercolour reverses the perspective that is the norm for images of the crucifixion. Rather than gazing upon Christ, and therefore standing in the position of the scoffers, or, at best, the bewildered apostles or the grief-crippled and faithful women, Tissot gives us Christ’s eyes; asks us to enter in to the experience of the Lord. In this aspect the image is suited to the illumination of the specific section of Psalm 22 in which the Psalmist looks upon his enemies encamped around him.
The bulls of Bashan (Psalm 22:12), mentioned also in Deuteronomy 32:14 and Amos 4:1, are often interpreted as a sign of the rich and powerful (e.g. see eighteenth-century commentaries by Matthew Henry and Charles Wesley). The reason is that bulls from Bashan were especially fat and strong (Craigie 1983: 200). Proverbs 28:15 compares wicked rulers to lions and the term dog was used throughout the Hebrew Bible to refer to those of low social standing or to someone contemptible (e.g. 2 Kings 8:13; 2 Samuel 9:8).
All of these human types are in evidence in the various individuals assembled at the foot of the cross. Also present in Tissot’s composition are the women mentioned in Matthew 27, a lone figure who is likely to be the Apostle John, and, front and centre, the mother of the Lord.
The reversal of perspective does not allow us to gaze on the one who has been pierced hand and foot, who is wracked with thirst, and whose bones are out of joint. All we see of the body of Christ are his feet. We are instead asked to consider all these indignities not as a spectacle we contemplate but as our own experiences. If we look with Christ’s eyes, then we must contemplate the wounds with Christ’s body: that is, as if our body were his, as if it is we ourselves who are crucified. As such, this painting completes the theological picture, for while we are the mockers, we are also crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). This is the same unity of perspective to which the Psalm invites us: that we may also feel ourselves, with the Psalmist, dried up and laid in the dust of death.
Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1–50, Word Biblical Commentary, 19 (Waco: Word Books)
Henry, Matthew.  2009. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody: Hendrickson)
Wesley, John. 1765. Explanatory Notes on the Old Testament (Bristol: William Pine)
22My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
3Yet thou art holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In thee our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5To thee they cried, and were saved;
in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.
6But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;
8“He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9Yet thou art he who took me from the womb;
thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts.
10Upon thee was I cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God.
11Be not far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is none to help.
12Many bulls encompass me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;
15my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
thou dost lay me in the dust of death.
16Yea, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots.
19But thou, O Lord, be not far off!
O thou my help, hasten to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion,
my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!
22I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
23You who fear the Lord, praise him!
all you sons of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!
24For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25From thee comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live for ever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
29Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and he who cannot keep himself alive.
30Posterity shall serve him;
men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation,
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
that he has wrought it.