The Pitcher and the Basin

Happy Maundy Thursday! Today is the day that we traditionally celebrate the Last Supper of the Lord and the Washing of the Feet.

Here is the gospel of the day:


John 13

1Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, 3fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 4he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” 10Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” 11For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”12So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? 13You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. 14If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. 15I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

Now, there is a lot going on in this gospel! To summarize, we have:

  1. An allusion of the Last Supper (which is written about at length by the other gospel writers).
  2. The imminent betrayal of Jesus at the hands at His disciple, Judas.
  3. The washing of the feet.

That’s quite a lot happening!

And yet, artists throughout the centuries have managed to weave these details into their artworks in beautiful ways that honestly leave me flabbergasted.

For instance, take a look at this artwork of the Last Supper:

The Last Supper, by Juan de Juanes, c. 1555-62. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Via
The Last Supper, by Juan de Juanes, c. 1555-62. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

It is a magnificent artwork in so many ways. Jesus Christ holds up the Host, looking directly toward us, the viewer, as He does so, as if inviting us to share in the Eucharist with Him.

Around Him, the apostles act in a myriad of different ways, depending who they are — and you can tell who they are from their halos, which has their name clearly written! (If you can’t read it, make sure to click the picture to enlarge it.) Some apostles look adoringly at the Host. Others seem astonished by what is going on. Others seem agitated.

There is only one apostle that doesn’t have a halo… Judas. For he is not a saint. Instead, his name is written on the chair that he is sitting on, just in case you didn’t know. And, if that wasn’t enough, out of all the apostles, he is the only one who seems to be withdrawing from the consecration. While he looks on and is part of the supper, it is clear that he wants to not be a part of the scene. And thus, it serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t withdraw from Christ, just as Judas did, and instead rush to adore and love Him.

Now, while the scene focuses on the Last Supper — and deservedly so! — another detail of this painting alludes to the washing of feet. Look at the bottom of the picture.

There is a gigantic pitcher and basin — a reference to the washing of feet!

It’s such a little detail, honestly. It took me years for my brain to even connect the pitcher and basin with the washing of feet, just because it seems like such an incidental detail, compared to the glory of the Eucharist. And yet, there it is. A reminder of the humility of Christ and His willingness to wash us of our sins in His love and mercy.

And it serves as a reminder to us: that while this is happening, Christ gives us a mandate: that we should love one another, just as He has loved us.

May this Maundy Thursday be a blessed one for all of you!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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