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Picturing the Passion: ‘Christ Taking Leave of His Mother’


Lorenzo Lotto | Public Domain

Joynel Fernandes - Indian Catholic Matters - published on 02/15/18

Take a journey on Jesus' "Way of the Cross" with the Great Masters. This is the first of twelve meditations to take you through Lent.

The Passion Narrative of Christ has dominated the world of painting, sculpture, music, theatre and other forms of art for ages. From Giotto to Rembrandt, every artist imagined and represented the betrayal, flagellation, humiliation, affliction and the brutal execution of Jesus in a unique way. Through their painful emotions they evoked the faithful to identify with Christ in His suffering and thus share in His salvation. Let us then journey with Jesus through His passion through 12 paintings during this season of Lent.

The first in this series is a heart-wrenching farewell between Christ and His Mother. This event is brought to life by Lorenzo Lotto, an Italian painter, in the year 1521. It marks the beginning of the climax of Christ’s mission, i.e. His Passion, death and resurrection. This episode is not accounted for in the Gospel but rather it is narrated at length in the Meditation of the Life of Christ by Pseudo Bonaventure.

In this “Christ taking leave of his Mother,” the sun is low on the horizon and dusk has settled over the land. After His supper at Bethany in the house of Martha and Mary, Christ visits His Mother in order to announce that His time had come. He kneels before her in filial obedience and with solemn sadness says “‘Most Beloved Mother… the time of redemption is coming. Now all things said of me will be fulfilled and they will do to me what they wish.’” (Chap 72 of the Meditations of the Life of Christ).

The anguish of the atmosphere is heightened by the impact of Christ’s words. As the Virgin swoons into semi-consciousness, her frail demeanor is supported by the distressed apostle John and Mary Magdalene. The older woman behind them joins her hands in prayer as her eyes of concern caress the afflicted mother.

Beholding this sorrowful scene are the other two apostles: Peter (as identified by the key) and Judas, the traitor. Although the Meditations makes no mention of either, both Peter and Judas find their presence in popular Italian Passion plays. It is to these apostles (the rock and the treasurer) that Mary entrusts her son and it is from them that she receives the most zealous assurances of fidelity to Christ; a fidelity that is broken and a trust that is lost. Their role displayed in the Passion plays and paintings enhances the tragedy and the gravity of the scene at hand.

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