Crowning of Thorns and Mocking of Christ
Agnolo di Polo, attributed to
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This painted terracotta sculpture is in one of the chapels of the Sacro Monte at San Vivaldo. The Sacro Monte (literally sacred mountain) is a pilgrimage site built by the Franciscans. Small chapels each contain painted terracotta sculptures with events from the Passion of Christ. These chapels are arranged on the hilly terrain so that they evoke the actual geography in the Holy Land of the places in which the events occurred. In a time in which pilgrimage to the Holy Land was for the most part impossible (because the territory was under Muslim control), the Sacro Monte offered a substitute or a simulacrum that was thought to be efficacious. In 1516, at the request of the Franciscans of San Vivaldo, Pope Leo X promulgated a brief granting indulgences (time off purgatory) to all who visited the site, which made it a major pilgrimage destination. At this and other Sacri Monti (of which there are several in Lombardy and Piedmont), devotees were to come in penitence, perhaps at night with a lantern, and move from chapel to chapel saying prayers. This sculpture is located in a chapel meant to be Pilate's house, and thus also containing the Flagellation, and, in an aedicule on the exterior, the Ecce Homo. (The location of the chapel, in the north-west of the site, reflects current thought about the location of Pilate's house in Jerusalem.) This sculpture of the Crowning of Thorns and Mocking of Christ has been attributed on the basis of style to Agnolo di Polo, a follower of Verrocchio who specialized in terracotta. Christ's tormentors are here shown as dark skinned, with exaggerated racialized features, and in exotic costume, a racist way to distinguish these evil figures from the pale figure of Christ. The figures seem to have been originally holding sticks, using them as levers to shove the thorns into Christ's head. (Older photos show such a stick in one figure's hands.) The gesture made by the bald man (second from the left) is an obscene, mocking one. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.