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“Christ before Pilate” by Luca Giordano Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 21st, 2020


During the Renaissance period, scholars and theologians used various strategies to emphasize the importance of Christ’s life. Most of the artists at the time presented different paintings and images aimed at encouraging people to appreciate Christ’s existence on earth. The painting “Christ before Pilate” by Luca Giordano is one of these works of art.

Just like most of the Renaissance paintings, this artwork by Giordano examined the life of Christ in details. The painting gave the painter an opportunity to address a “conventional” subject without losing the existing Christian values. After a detailed analysis of this painting, the viewer observes that it had a unique meaning for its original audience. This paper offers a detailed analysis and critique of this painting by Luca Giordano.

Meaning of the Painting

The painting reminds the viewer about Christ’s mission and work on earth. Jesus was innocent because he only “advanced” God’s work on earth. Although Jesus was God’s son, the Jews condemned him and eventually crucified him. They crucified him because he was claiming to be the king. During the same time, Pilate always treated the Jews harshly and expected him to condemn Christ. However, Pontius Pilate washed his hand and allowed the crowd to crucify Christ.

By so doing, the painting goes further to place the blame on the Jews. As well, Pilate is blamable because he scarified Christ in order to avoid “personal problems” from the crowd (Stemp 56). The message intended to the original audience was to “stand for God’s words and laws” (Harris 58).

Examination and Setting of the Painting

Throughout the Reformation period, different artists used various “canonical scenes” to address the changing views and attitudes in the Jewish society. By so doing, the painters managed to refresh the “iconography” of Jesus’ life. As portrayed in this painting, Giordano paints Christ at the time he is before Pontius Pilate. The soldiers are in shock after seeing what Pilate has decided to do (Harris 73).

One of the soldiers holds Christ’s hair tightly. At the same time, Pontius Pilate is washing his hands as described in the Bible. The other soldiers are looking at the scene attentively. The painting also shows how Pilate commands the respect and authority. History shows clearly that he was the executor of criminals.

“Christ before Pilate” by Luca Giordano (1650-1655).

“Christ before Pilate” by Luca Giordano (1650-1655). Oil on panel.

This scene depicted in the painting appears to take place after Pilate has found no wrongdoings in Christ’s actions. The scene happens after Pilate has failed to secure atonement for Christ. This happens because the soldiers have refused to forgive him. This explains why Pilate decides to wash his hands. The soldiers appear to have “awful” thoughts and great expectations from the scene.

They are terrified and anxious because they are about to crucify Christ (Harris 87). Their facial expressions show that they are running out of patience. They are waiting eagerly for Pontius Pilate to permit them so that they can condemn and crucify Christ.

The scene depicted by Giordano also takes in the dark. Giordano’s painting reminds the viewer about Christ’s teachings before he was “presented” before Pilate. The painter has used this setting to make it meaningful and relevant to the targeted audience. The painter has based his work on the biblical story of Christ a few moments before the Jews crucify him.

Subject Matter

After looking at this image by Luca Giordano carefully, it is agreeable that it retells the story of Christ before the Jews crucify him. This makes the painting a meaningful Renaissance artwork. It also refreshes the iconography of Jesus and his life (Preziosi 29). The painting uses certain elements of art as a form of symbolism.

For instance, the use of “darkness” and “shadowy” images symbolize the uncertainty that awaits Christ. The presence of Pilate and Christ symbolizes the political and religious worlds respectively.

The other use of symbolism occurs in the “spear” and presence of the soldiers. The two symbolize the inevitable crucifixion of Christ. The act of washing hands by Pontius Pilate is also symbolic. In this scene, Pilate is telling the world that he is not guilty of Jesus’ execution.

The audience also observes that the painter takes the scene directly from a “real-life” event that took place in Judaea. This explains why the image is not a reference to any earlier work of art. However, it would be agreeable that certain artists painted similar works in an attempt to depict the scene as described in the Bible.

This piece of art by Luca Giordano is a masterpiece because it relates directly to political and religious ideas connected to Giordano’s contemporary world (D’Avella 63). For instance, the painting portrays the powers possessed by the Roman Empire and its “prefects”.

As well, the painting explores in details the wave of Protestantism that was taking place at the time. This explains why the painting encourages people to obey God’s laws and always be ready for the final judgment.

Formal Properties of the Painting

Giordano’s artwork is an “oil painting” on panel. The painter uses dull colors to “tell” the message. The painter has contrasted these colors to create a uniform torn. In order to present the intended message, Giordano uses the life of Christ as a critical historical “event” for the painting. The painter uses various shades of black, white, red, and brown colors.

The painting also portrays a smooth texture. The painter achieves contrast by the use of different color tones and shades (D’Avella 69). As well, the painter uses “lightness” and “darkness” to create contrast. The painter uses dark colors to depict a “shadowy” scene. This symbolizes a “sad” situation since Jesus is about to be crucified (Davies et al. 41).

The painter has used uses “light” and “darkness” to create a sense of emotion. The use of various color shades creates a unique tone. The approach helps to pass the intended message to the viewer. The painter also uses “space” to create perspective. This perspective also creates movement. The painter uses various colors and lighting technique to achieve “balance”.

This painter also achieves “balance” through the concept of composition (D’Avella 94). The audience gets the chance to view every “object” or “part” of this painting from Christ’s position. The relationship helps the audience get the intended message. The painter also uses perspective and space to create a three dimensional image.

The painter has also used the concept of darkness and lightness to create value. The created “value” advances the painting’s focal point. The color shades creates tint and hue. The darker parts and colors inform the viewer about the experience faced by Christ (Stemp 104). As well, the painter has used lines as a critical aspect of art.

The lines define the borders and shapes of every object on the piece of art. This approach has created emotion. The painter achieves this emotion by using “light” and “even” lines. The painter uses the lines to create shadows thus making the painting meaningful (Davies et al. 68).

The painting portrays certain attributes that were common during the Renaissance period. Some of these formal attributes include movement, composition, and color. The painter uses an “ideal balance” whereby Jesus is the focal point. This creates a sense of balance with Pilate is on one side and the soldiers on the other.

Both Pilate and the soldiers focus on Christ as he awaits crucifixion. The “impatience” and strength portrayed by “movement” presents a sense of energy. The soldiers are also close to each other. The message derived here is that they want to see everything and ensure Christ does not escape. The spear in the painting shows the soldier’s bitterness and anxiety to crucify Christ.

The painter uses the images of Pilate and Christ to send a new message to the audience (Harris 97). Christ was a great figure in Christianity. His crucifixion was inevitable as portrayed in the painting. The painting also shows a sense of “stillness” as every soldier watches keenly to see what might happen next. This stillness presents a sense of “movement”. This presents a true renaissance work while passing the message of Christ to the believers (Harris 97).


The approach used by the painter helps the audience reexamine God’s prophesies. Since the position of Christ in the church was clear at the time, the painting stressed the importance of taking God’s words seriously and keeping his commandments. The portrayal of Jesus, the Jews, and Pontius Pilate shows the conflicting interests between “earthly practices” and “heavenly goals”.

The image of Christ and use of appropriate color shades and texture encourages believers to trust God and be faithful always. This was the same message emphasized during the Renaissance period.

Works Cited

D’Avella, Anne. How to Write Art History. New York: Laurence King Publishing, 2006. Print.

Davies, Penelope, Walter Denny, Frima Hofritcher, Joseph Jacobs, Ann Roberts and David Simon. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Traditions. New York: Pearson, 2010. Print.

Harris, Ann. Seventeenth-Century Art and Architecture. New York: Pearson, 2008. Print.

Preziosi, Donald. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Stemp, Richard. The Secret Language of the Renaissance: Decoding the Hidden Symbolism of Italian Art. New York: Duncan Baird, 2012. Print.

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