... in a favourite painting

Published on 02 Sep 2019
Pilate stands in a ray of light while Jesus stands in shadow

On a recent trip to Moscow I went to the Tretyakov Gallery and decided to spend some time with some specific paintings that I knew I liked. One of them is the painting 'What is truth?' by Nikolai Ge. 

I can't remember when I first saw this painting but the vision of Christ and Pilate in the work, while not to everyone's taste, and the power balance depicted by the play of light and shadow, have always stayed in my mind. Ge also painted other scenes of Christ's passion, some of which were hung together in the same room.

As I sat in front of the painting I said a quiet prayer in my heart, and a moment later I felt a strange sensation of the pain, humiliation that Christ must have experienced. It was a gutteral feeling - I almost felt sick. I have always known of Christ's pain in my head, but I don't think I can engage with it very often on an emotional level, because it is too horrible.

Despite the fact I have always liked the painting, I had never before experienced anything quite like that in relation to it, or any other painting for that matter. It felt as though Jesus was reminding me that whatever my sufferings may be, he had undertaken the greatest suffering for me. In a way, that is not always comforting, but rather, it is challenge.