The Paralytic Lowered Through the Roof to Christ (Verlamde door het dak naar Christus neergelaten) by Willem Isaacsz. van Swanenburg

Willem Isaacsz. van Swanenburg

The Paralytic Lowered Through the Roof to Christ (Verlamde door het dak naar Christus neergelaten), 1624–39, Engraving, 311 x 236 mm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Purchased 1885, RP-P-1885-A-9080, Courtesy of Rijksmuseum

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The Clamour of the Crowd

Commentary by

Willem Isaacsz. van Swanenburg presents us with a mass of bodies. The crowd fills almost all of the image and spills out of the open door to the right.

Amid this hubbub, a man on a bed is being lowered through the ceiling by four other men.

The scene is chaotic and claustrophobic.

Van Swanenburg has depicted the event just as it is described in Mark and Luke. But the Gospel writers do not tell us how the crowd gathered around Jesus reacted to the man appearing through the roof. Van Swanenburg imagines a range of responses among the assembly.

Several of the faces are astonished at the sight. Others look anxious at the precarious manoeuvre—will he make it down safely? Some reach up to help. A few appear to be disgruntled—perhaps they are annoyed that the man is ‘pushing in’ to get past them to Jesus.

Jesus’s own expression is a mixture of surprise and concern. He leans backwards as the man is lowered towards him, and his arms are open at his sides. This gesture suggests both astonishment and a readiness to receive the man who is being lowered to him.

But Jesus’s arms are not just open to the man on the bed. His gesture is directed out of the frame and so appears to invite us as viewers into the scene. If we are part of this gathering, we might reflect on whether we recognize ourselves in any of the reactions of the crowd to this event.

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