Ecce Homo

Easter is coming. This is the “Ecce Homo” by Maarten van Heemskerck, a triptych ordered by the family Drenckwaert from Dortrecht in 1644. It was to serve them as a commemoration of their piety, as well as a means of obtaining salvation. The husband and wife, placed on both sides of the main panel, pray in the face of the Passion scene.

Maarten van Heemskerck, Ecce homo, 1644, National Museum in Warsaw

In the center is an episode from Good Friday – Pilate presents a martyred Christ to the gathered crowds. He has a crown of thorns on his head and a twig held like a scepter. They act as a scoffing signs that he is “the king of the Jews”. The prefect of Judea leaves in the hands of the crowd the decision about whether Jesus’ life is to end that day. However, the verdict is already settled. Therefore, The man standing in the middle in the background raises his whipping hand. In addition, the people gathered below the podium twitch their faces in sneering smiles.

Right side: simulation of original colors (done by J. P. Getty Museum)

The scene is full of drama and tension. However, when you look closely at the body of Christ, you will not find any traces of blood on it, even though the artist painted them. The paint used to depict the blood contained unstable colorants, which over time lost their intensity, even disappeared. The abundant drops shown around Jesus’ feet are now transparent and look like pebbles. A similar reaction took place in the color of Christ’s blue robe, which today is only grayish. A smalt used there is a pigment made of grinned cobalt glass – intense blue at the beginning, but quickly fading over time.

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