Christ on the Way to Golgotha
Roberti, Ercole de' (1455-1496) | Painter
During the 15th century, smaller panels came to be placed below large altarpieces to form a base (predella). These panels were mostly painted with narrative motifs, while the altarpieces depicted individual saints. This Ferrarese artist created the predellas for the main altar of San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna. One shows Christ praying on the Mount of Olives on the left-hand side and his arrest by soldiers led by Judas on the right. The other represents Christ on the way to his crucifixion.
In our art collections, we have another predella scene painted by Ercole de'Roberti for the same Bologna altarpiece.
The subject of this work, in a similar horizontal format, is Christ’s prayer in the garden and his capture. To the far left, we see Christ absorbed in prayer on the Mount of Olives, his disciples asleep close by. De'Roberti renders the figures masterfully in a variety of poses. In the scene slightly to the right of the centre, the two main protagonists are Christ and Judas, the disciple who betrayed him. Judas has just kissed Christ – the signal for the soldiers to rush forwards and take Christ prisoner. To the left of Christ and Judas, the half-crouching man holding a sword over his head is Saint Peter. In an attempt to defend Christ, he strikes at Malchus, a servant of the High Priest, and cuts his ear off – though later Christ heals Malchus. The individual scenes present sequential events in different settings, with the rock formations serving to locate each scene in its own space and time.
Some days before the Jewish Passover festival, Christ enters Jerusalem on a donkey and is met by the cheering crowds of his followers. The next day he drives the moneychangers and merchants out of the Temple, announcing a new Temple built by God. After this ‘cleansing of the Temple’, as it is known, the chief priests plot to destroy him.
At his last supper with his disciples, Christ announces that one of them will betray him. He shares bread and wine with them, calling the bread his body and the wine his blood.
Later, he goes with a few of his disciples to Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, to pray. As he sets out to return to the town, he is met by Judas, who betrays him with a kiss. The kiss is the sign for an armed crowd to arrest Christ. He is taken before the high priests at the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. When asked if he is the Messiah, Christ answers that he is. The Sanhedrin accuse him of blasphemy, and sentence him to death. But since a death sentence can only be executed by the Roman governor, Christ is taken to be tried by Pontius Pilate. Pilate declares that he can find no basis to charge Christ. So he asks the assembled crowd and the priests if he should free Christ or free Barabbas, a condemned criminal. The crowd shouts for Barabbas to be freed. Afterwards, Pilate orders Christ to be scourged and executed as an agitator.
Christ is then crucified on the hill of Golgotha together with two thieves. Pilate grants Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, permission to take Christ’s body down from the cross and bury it in his own rock tomb. The women coming to the tomb on the morning after the Sabbath to anoint Christ’s body find the tomb open and his body gone.
‘Predella’ comes the Italian and means a little step or a stool. In art, the predella is the term for the horizontal band under the main panels of an altarpiece. An altarpiece is set at the rear of the altar – and sometimes known as a ‘retable’, derived from the Latin retro tabulum, ‘behind the altar’. In a church, an altarpiece is one of the most prominent features, and can be decorated with large format paintings or carved figures. Adding wing panels to the central panel created more space for the iconographic programme. On particularly elaborate altarpieces, the wing panels are painted on both sides. In this way, opening or closing the wings presents different scenes to the faithful.
- Material & Technique
- Oil on poplar panel
- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
- c. 1482/86
- Inventory number
- Gal.-Nr. 45