Christ Mocked


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, “Christ Mocked,” ca 1630, Oil on canvas. Private Collection, London, UK. Image Credit: Sotheby’s

Christ Mocked is held in a private collection and cannot be viewed by the public at this time. However, it can still be studied as a characteristic piece of Baroque art and Counter-Reformation ideals.

This painting depicts a slouching, naked, and dejected Jesus. He is sitting on a stone slab with a large, red fabric surrounding him that runs into the background. A cloth of the same color also serves as the background drapery for the entire scene. He sits with his arms crossed over his groin. In his right hand he holds a stick; this is the “scepter” that the Roman guards made him hold as they mocked him as the “King of the Jews.” The red fabric is from the “royal” cloak they made him wear; it has fallen off of his slumping shoulders.9

The contrasting light and dark spaces—a common Baroque practice—highlight the importance of the figure and the moment; the light focuses on Jesus, and it creates a more emotional scene for the viewer by emphasizing the gravity of Jesus’ struggle.

The lighting of the painting also seems to give Jesus an almost “sculptural presence.”6 The chiaroscuro of the painting mimics the shadows and depth of a sculpture; the painting looks as if Bernini—who was a more accomplished sculptor than painter6—painted a sculpture of Jesus. The fact that Jesus sits on a stone pedestal, like many statues, only further reinforces this sculptural motif. The stone slab also mirrors Bernini’s additive sculpting process; the depiction of Jesus appears like two pieces of stone—Jesus and the pedestal—fused together. In this case, the sculptural quality limits the dynamism of the piece. However, it is still able to create an emotional representation of Jesus.

Unlike past depictions of Jesus as divine or with an idealized body, Bernini portrays him as a clearly defeated and demoralized man; this humanization of Jesus connects the viewer with him and his plight. Seeing the pained expression on his face, and the clear derision with which he is being treated (the robe and the “scepter”), one cannot help but sympathize with his struggle.

In spite of the limited dynamism of this painting, Christ Mocked is still able to fully elucidate the primary goals of the Counter-Reformation. The lighting, shading, and realistic depiction of Jesus all create an emotional scene that draws the viewer in and allows them to feel a deep, personal connection with Jesus, the figurehead of Christianity.