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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Antonio Ciseri

Ecco Homo (Behold the Man), 1871, Antonio Ciseri
Art has three purposes--to entertain, to inform, and to inspire. More often than not, most people never get past the first one. Whether it's film, TV, literature, illustration, painting, or sculpture we (artists are guilty of this too) give over our attention for a few seconds (a minute or two, at the most). Especially with what I call the "static" arts (those which lack movement), once we are no longer entertained we move on. Stand back and watch yourself in an art museum sometime. The second and third purposes go hand in hand. It's hard to imagine being inspired by a work of art without being first informed, aligning ones thinking with that of the artist. Seeing and observing (not necessarily the same thing) allows the work to infect the mind at a level of understanding, which leads to emotional reactions that often change our thinking in a manner we call inspiration. That's especially the case with religious art, and especially that of the Swiss artist, Antonio Ciseri.

Antonio Ciseri, self-portrait
Antonio Ciseri died in 1891 at the age of seventy, but if he were alive today, he'd probably be a moviemaker not unlike Mel Gibson (The Passion of Christ). They seem to have both been cut from the same cloth. Like most moviemakers, Ciseri was not all that prolific. His most outstanding works can be counted on the fingers of one hand starting with his most famous, Ecco Homo (top), painted in 1871. Except for possibly images of Christ's crucifixion, this title has been confronted more often than any other moment in Christ's life. Some artists have sought to inspire with little effort to inform. Some have chosen to in-form, seemingly unmindful of the emotional potential of Pontius Pilate's words. A few have done neither. Ciseri, on the other hand, does both, and with his stark, cine-matic style, he even manages to involve us in the storyline of Christ's final hours in a manner bordering on entertainment (if you allow me some elasticity in that word's definition).

Like scenes from a movie, Ciseri varies his lighting, mood,
and compositions to suit the moment depicted.

Even though Ciseri's four paintings (Ecco Homo and the three above) are, by necessity, static, they move (though not literally) when taken in sequence. They are moving--not motion pictures--but moving pictures. Thus they inspire. But inspiration can take on various forms. For the religious, they inspire a search for faith and truth as conveyed in the Gospels. For the intellectual, they inspire a search for the truth as to Jesus' life here on earth as suggested in the Gospels, but not proven. We call such searchers archaeologists.

The map (and my arrow) indicate the presumed location of Herod's palace during the 16th century. Current excavations now place the city walls as encompassing the mount just above the caption (listed on this map as
"Herod's Encampment").
Did you know, you can now visit the very place where the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate uttered the words which have inspired so many artists over the centuries? Moreover its not where you might think. For centuries, as seen on the map of ancient Jerusalem (above) dating from between 1533 and 1585, it has been assumed (with little or no proof) that Jesus was interrogated by Pilate at the Roman Fortress of Antonia adjacent to (and just north of) the Temple Mount (the top of the map is east). However, recent research and archaeological excavations have now led experts to believe that when Pilate visited the city from Caesarea, he held court at King Herod's lavish palace on the far western edge of first-century Jerusalem. That means the scene Ciseri depicts in his painting would have, in fact, taken place in the massive center court of that palace (below). The palace would have been little more than 500 yards from Golgotha.

This modern-day map of Jerusalem is oriented north and south and
reflects the most recent archaeological evidence as to various Gospel
accounts. Herod's palace was, in fact inside the city walls, though just
barely. The walls in relation to Golgotha (as is the location itself)
are more uncertain.
The problem with ascertaining Pilate's whereabouts in relationship to Christ's final hours are twofold--uneducated guesswork, and the near total destruction of Herod's palace during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The area around Mt. Zion (where the palace was apparently located) was not only laid to waste by the Romans, but the rubble also served to raise the elevation of the land, allowing it to be built over, obliterating from surface view any indication of the massive palace foundations (below), which have now been excavated and opened to the public. Jesus' "trial" most likely took place in the massive colonnaded courtyard near the center of the reconstructed model. It would have been the only area large enough to have accommodated the crowds mentioned in the Gospels. No one knows, of course, to what degree Antonio Ciseri may have inspired and motivated the archaeologists seeking to clear away both the rubble and the legends of medieval times. The only certainty is that the truth as to Christ's final hours is literally "coming to light," albeit in the name of Christian tourism.

Notice that there are city walls both east and west of the palace. It's little wonder past "experts" were confused.
Antonio Ciseri's home in Rome.


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