When I was a kid, I grew up with those Where’s Waldo? books. Basically, if you’re unfamiliar with the premise, a character named Waldo hides in the middle of an action packed scene and it’s very, very difficult to find Waldo! You really have to peer closely at the scene to try to try to find Waldo… so by the time you actually do find him, you are quite familiar with the scene!
Hundreds of years ago, religious artists used the same concept to draw their viewers into the scenes of the Passion. For instance! I’ve already featured this complicated art by Hans Memling, which shows a large number of scenes from the Passion. Then there’s this artwork, which features scenes from the Passion… but in the background! But, even in individual scenes from the Passion, sometimes the artist will use the same technique!
For example, take a look at this brilliant artwork:
If you want to take a closer look, click on the picture!
Upon first glance, the Flemish viewers who first viewed this artwork in the 17th century would see a very familiar landscape! In the background is a large Flemish city, with its castles and churches dominating the city. The people are dressed in garb that would be typical of the Flemish people. It looks like a parade!
And yet, when one looks harder, there are clear religious tones. The first thing I noticed, in particular, was the statue of the cross, with the nun at the foot of it. Then I noticed Jesus carrying the cross. Then, there was a palpable darkness that looms over Calvary.
But there are other details that are harder to see! The women in front of Jesus holding a veil is probably Veronica, offering Jesus her veil, as the theme of Veronica’s Veil was a very popular devotion around this time period. To the right, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is crying, comforted by Mary Magdalene, who is represented by the jar of oil at her feet. As you look toward Calvary, you’ll see skulls and bones in the distance, as the bones at Calvary symbolize original sin. And then, though we probably wouldn’t notice this, there is one building in the background that is very, very different from the typical Flemish architecture — a large, round building, which almost looks like a stadium to our eyes, is supposed to symbolize the great temple of Jerusalem.
There are two main reasons for these kinds of artwork!
For one, it places the original viewer in a familiar scene, making the viewer aware that Christ’s death, while it happened in Jerusalem thousands of years ago, could just as easily have happened where they were living. (Though, this painting is far less confrontational about it than this painting, which has the ordinary villagers ignoring the whole scene of the Passion!) After all, did not the sins of the world pin Jesus to that Cross?
For another, just as the Where’s Waldo books did, it really focuses you to look at the art closely. Where’s Jesus, after all? He looks to be only a mere man surrounded by many other people! And then, where are all the other people who supported Him? They are just as hard to see! So, it gives you an idea, as a bystander, of what this scene looked like and how horrifying it was to watch by His disciples.
No wonder most of them fled the scene!
And yet, mere man though He might have seemed, by His death and resurrection, we are saved. And that is Good News — literally!
Questions to Ponder:
- What was the first thing you saw in this artwork? How long did it take you to find Christ?
- What would it look like to place Christ in our own modern world as He carried His cross?
- What imagery jumped out at you as you looked upon this artwork? Why?
Thank You for carrying the Cross for the sake of us, who are merely sinners. Help us carry our own crosses in our lives.
I briefly considered putting this in my upcoming book about the Sorrowful Mysteries… but ultimately decided not to! To see what my first book (about the Joyful Mysteries) looks like, go here!