Here Are the 11 Most Beautiful Images of Christ’s Passion
If you feel like you haven’t spent enough time contemplating the Lenten or Sorrowful mysteries this year (or even if you have), now is the perfect time to spend a few minutes gazing on these paintings of our Lord’s Passion. These images were so beautifully created, their mastery of art and depth of expression can move us to greater understanding and insight, intense spiritual reflection, or even tears. Each is a meditation unto itself. Use them as a starting point for your Holy Week prayer, and walk with Christ to the triumph of the Resurrection.
1. The Agony in the Garden by Mattia Preti
Mattia Preti draws our minds to a passage from the Gospel of Luke, evident from the inclusion of a chalice in the top left of the painting. “Father, if you are willing, remove this chalice from me; nevertheless not my will but yours, be done” (Luke 22:41-42). As Christ prays in the garden he is preparing to offer himself up for all of humanity–to die. There is humility in Preti’s Christ, kneeling as he prayers with eyes looking up to heaven asking to do God’s will. His humility is something we should all attempt to emulate.
2. The Agony in the Garden by Carl Heinrich Bloch
“And there appeared to him an angel from heaven strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:43-44)
Bloch paints the moment Christ is being comforted by an angel. He turns Christ’s agony and vulnerability into a beautiful, moving moment. The angel lovingly embraces Christ and is comfort personified. The tenderness in the angel’s expression is something for us to learn from. When others are going through difficult times we can extend tenderness and compassion. Reversely when we are selves go through agony we can hope to receive if not from another human but from heaven above.
3. Christ Falls on the Way to Calvary by Raphael
Raphael shows there is beauty in chaos. Christ fell while carrying the cross. He was not alone when he hit the ground. He was surrounded by loved ones such as his mother; sympathizers who recognized truth; and his enemies–those who condemned him to death and those who put him to death. The vibrant colors of the painting compete for the attention of your eyes almost making you miss what is at the center, Christ. He does not look despairing instead he is looking into the loving eyes of his mother. With all that is going around him on top of the physical pain and exhaustion he was enduring, his eyes connect with the one person who has loved him the most intimately.
4. Christ Carrying the Cross by El Greco
Christ could be carrying the cross over his shoulders, instead, El Greco decided to rest the cross between his arms and against his heart. Christ is standing erect and is embracing the cross with his arms. We are all called to embrace the cross in our lives. We are called to die to ourselves. Truly the way of the cross is the way to Love. El Greco rendering of Christ holding the cross is one of strength and love.
5. Simon de Cyrene portant la croix du Christ (attributed to Francisco de Ribalta)
There is a sincere exchange between Simon and Christ in the painting. Usually one thinks of Simon helping Christ in the middle of the crowd that is watching Christ fall again. Here it is the different; here is a painting that shows a moment between two men. Simon looks at Christ not with pity or disgust but with sincerity. One can easily forget how close Simon was to Christ. He was not miles off but right next to Christ. This painting shows a personal exchange between Simon and Christ. Simon assisting Christ was not an impersonal action. When we help others or give of our time for an endeavor other than our own interests we are giving of a gift of self. Simon gave a gift of self to Christ and in doing so participated in the Passion of Our Lord.
6. Christ and the Good Thief By Titian
Titian’s Christ and the Good Thief immediately brings to mind the bible passage Luke 23:42-43: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
A moment of mercy is captured which becomes clear when one look’s into the thief’s eyes and then to Christ’s bowed head. The Good Thief shows us seeking God’s mercy at the end of life is still possible. It is never too late. Christ’s bowed head is not to be overlooked. Christ continues to serve man while hearing the plea of the Good Thief. Until his last breath Christ demonstrates selflessness by listening and in comforting. He does not condemn the condemned rather he offers comfort and hope.
7. Christ on the Cross by Rembrandt
Rembrandt’s use of dark and light colors is spectacular as it draws the eye straight to Christ. In doing so one cannot run away from Christ. One is forced to take in the image and to consider it. There’s an unmistakable beauty as well as realism. The mixture of the two inspires reverence for the death of our Lord and his great sacrifice. Rembrandt made it easier for anyone to mediate longer on the mystery of the Passion.
8. Crucifixion by Rembrandt
Once again Rembrandt turns the moment of Christ’s death into a beautiful scene. Instead of focusing on the figure of Christ alone, he considers it also from all the people who were there as Christ died. The anguish, the sorrow, the indifference, and many more emotions of those present can be seen in the people surrounding Christ. Depending on who you were then you might have had different opinions about Christ’s crucifixion. Mary certainly would not have the same disposition as those who wanted Christ dead. Similarly, there are as many diverse attitudes towards the person of Christ today. Some people deny Christ’s existence, others flat out hate Him, many love Him, etc. That stability is comforting. No matter what people think or believe about Christ it does not alter the truth. He died for us on the cross.
9. The Crucifixion by Giotto di Bondone
There at the bottom left of the painting kneels three Franciscan friars. The friar closest to Christ with his hands extended up is St. Francis of Assisi. Seeing their presence makes sense since the painting is in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. More than that though it shows the relationship between St. Francis and Christ and it calls us to the same relationship. They have a relationship of close proximity. The crucifixion is not a distant event in the Catholic faith. It is a central event. Christ on the cross is not something for us to remember at only at Easter. It is something we should constantly remember to embrace. Thousands of years later the crucifixion is as relevant today as it was in St. Francis’ life and as relevant as it was when it occurred.
10. Our Lady of Sorrows by Carlo Dolci
What happened after the passion of our Lord? Most people recall the burial of Christ. Carlo Dolci forces us to contemplate the sorrow of Mary. Her only son is dead. Despite the mystery and beauty of Christ’s sacrifice, his death is still something to be sad over. Mary shows us the pain of a mother losing her only son. Dolci does this by painting Mary with Christ in her arms and seven daggers piercing her heart. The seven daggers represent her seven sorrows. Her sorrow did not begin after Christ’s death. Her agony began much earlier. Mary was present throughout the Passion of our Lord. She followed him to Calvary. She was there as they nailed him the cross. She was there as he said his last word and breathed his last breath. Mary saw her son being beaten, heckled at, hated, and killed. While her heart was shattering she demonstrated strength. She never wavered in her faith nor abandoned her son. She stood by him until the end. We are called to stand by Christ in the face of all adversity, in the face of all pain.
11. Our Lady of Sorrows By William Adolphe Bouguereau
The lamenting, praying angels surround Mary. None of their expressions quite match the intensity of her grief that Bouguereau imbued into her eyes. With her grief, the artist simultaneously depicted Mary with tenderness. The tenderness is seen in her final embrace of her son. There’s a power in the image of a mother grieving and loving her son at the same time. The artist, whether intentionally or unintentionally shows the viewer a truth about love. Love does not end with death. Mary’s love is constant; God’s love is constant.