“… So marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals ….” (Is 52:14).
On Good Friday we are invited to meditate on the passion and death of Our Lord. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that Jesus set aside his dignity as God and took on the form of a slave, becoming one like us in all things, except for sin. He did not stop there, but for us, even accepted death on the cross. (cf. 2:6-8) This is the worst type of death that could be imposed in the Roman empire! The letter to the Hebrews reflects on Jesus’ obedience. Through their disobedience, Adam and Eve bring sin into the world (cf. Rm 5:12), through his obedience till the end, Jesus buys back our salvation!
In his gospel John brings to conclusion what he set out to do in the prologue of his gospel. The passion speaks of Jesus’ glory as the Son of the Father (cf. Jn 1:14). When Jesus is lifted up high, on the cross, like a standard ready for battle, salvation is achieved. (cf. Jn 12:32). John tells us that the cross of Jesus is the true tree of life, planted in the middle of the garden (cf. Gn 3:3; Jn 18:1,19:18; Coloe, Mary L., ‘Theological Reflections on Creation in the Gospel of John,’ Pacifica 24 (February 2011).). Fruit from the tree of life in Genesis is the source of (original) sin; fruit of the tree of life, the cross of Jesus, generates new life.
The suffering of Jesus is a source of inspiration for Joseph De Piro. In two of his discernment exercises he mentions Jesus, who suffered so much for his sins, as one of the reasons for his decision. Moreover, in 1891, in his younger years, De Piro made a pencil drawing of the suffering face of Jesus.
A reflection on De Piro’s pencil drawing of the suffering face of Jesus
Joseph drew the face of Jesus crowned with thorns. The first impression is that this is a copy of the Ecce Homo by the famous artist Guido Reni (c. 1639-1640). Reni produced at least seven different paintings of the suffering Jesus; three crucifixions and four Ecce Homo. One wonders why Joseph chose to reproduce this particular painting; it would be safe to surmise that he identified more with this painting he chose to reproduce.
Studying Joseph’s drawing one can notice that the artist puts only a few thorns on Jesus’ head, and these are put in a rather orderly way. It seems that while young Joseph wants to be faithful to the scriptures, he lacks the courage to place too many thorns on Jesus’ head; moreover, some of the thorns do not even touch the Lord’s head.
The same can be said regarding the amount of blood coming out from Jesus’ head and other parts of his body. De Piro puts some drops of blood, but this is not excessive; his aim is only to remind observers of Jesus’ sufferings.
Jesus’ eyes are broken; they reflect his sufferings; the Lord is indeed suffering greatly. In his suffering Jesus looks upward; he communicates with the One above, reminding onlookers that the Son and the Father are one, even at this moment. The suffering Son asks for mercy from the Father above. Joseph seems to condense different moments of the passion into one dramatic moment of Jesus’ sufferings: e.g. in the Garden of Olives Jesus asks the Father to have mercy on him.
Jesus is presented as a sign of contradiction. He is silent, yet very eloquent; his eyes indicate he is calm and quiet, not shouting. He is certainly communicating with his Father in silent prayer. Jesus prays calmly, without shouting, without moving his lips; he communicates with the Father internally. De Piro is convinced of what Jesus had said before his passion: “… your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”
Jesus, the sign of contradiction, is weak – indeed very weak, yet quite strong. He is positively affected by his sufferings, but still in control of his virtues; he suffers in faith, never ceasing to trust. De Piro conveys this trust in the Father by drawing Jesus’ hair as well kept.
Jesus’ shoulders are uncovered; his flesh is showing. The suffering one is God become human.
In his different paintings De Piro is always careful to maintain the preciseness and the proportions of measure. The face of the suffering Jesus is not an exception to this; Jesus is presented as the perfect human being.
Jesus is holding a reed in his hand. He does not hold it angrily, but he is not content; he is not foolish!
One cannot tell why De Piro chose to paint only the face of the suffering Jesus and not his whole body; on a later occasion he spoke about the passion of Jesus, referring to his great suffering. Similarly, one cannot be sure why the artist chose to use a pencil instead of another medium; De Piro could also handle oil, the archives contain one of his oil paintings. The reason may in fact be very simple: in 1891, when he produced this drawing, he might not as yet have been as confident painting with oil, his oil painting is dated 1895.
This drawing in the early years of De Piro’s life seems to have influenced his whole life. It appears that he adopted the suffering Jesus as the model for his life; he continuously tried to live like the suffering Lord. De Piro too was a living sign of contradiction. While he was weak in his physique and in his academic achievements; he had a very strong character. He was very fragile, yet achieved great projects. He suffered continuously in silence, but was always evangelising. In this painting of the face of the suffering Jesus one can observe the personality of Joseph De Piro himself.
Finally, one needs to point out that while all his other paintings had been stored away, wrapped in paper and hidden from all eyes, this drawing was framed and hung on a wall in the family home for all to see. Since the age of fourteen, De Piro was keen to evangelise and tell everyone about Jesus’ sufferings.