The Scourging of Christ, Giulio Cesare Procaccini

8 August 2016

Upon walking into Gallery 250 of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, one will find on the wall a particularly eye-catching piece of art. The piece, set high on the corner of the wall encompassed by pictures depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, is Giulio Cesare Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ. In this piece, Procaccini’s masterful use of light and shadows in a technique called chiaroscuro dramatically portray the torturing of Christ, and it is this very application of chiaroscuro that immediately caught my eye. Through his masterful rendition of value, Procaccini successfully evoked within me a crushing sensation of agony.

While I did not initially realize that the piece was one of Christ, research enabled me to witness how daring and bold Procaccini was in being one of the few to depict the agony of Christ.

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Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ is important in its excellent display of the evocative powers of art, and also in its depiction of the seldom-explored topic of the agony of Christ. To understand the significance of a piece of art, one must first come to understand what the piece of art is. Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ is a piece that dates from the early 17th Century.

Being an Italian piece from this period, it is clear that the piece was created in a time that featured Baroque art as its main movement. As is common of the age, Procaccini creates a sense of space and depth not through linear and aerial perspective, but rather through varying light and shadow. This is one of the traits of Baroque art, as innovated by Annibale Carracci. To further establish the piece’s deep roots in the Baroque movement of 17th Century Italy, Procaccini’s use of light and shadow is much like the use of light and shadow by one of the poster boys of the Baroque movement – Caravaggio.

In Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew, the lighting becomes one of the many points of discussion. That is because the lighting in this piece is cleverly used to draw the focus to the main characters in play – those being Christ and Saint Matthew. Shadow is used to obscure those without much significance in the piece, and thus the use of chiaroscuro in the piece can be said to have a highlighting effect, bringing forth those important and obscuring those trivial. Very similar to this is the use of light and shadow in Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ.

In it, the main figure, the body of Christ, is basked in a light that draws him forth from the background. Behind him are the people scourging him, and these people are only acknowledged with a bit of light here and there to indicate their presence. A majority of the figures are concealed by the strong contrast and shadows in the piece while the main figure is brought forth by light, making the use of chiaroscuro in this piece very reminiscent of the Baroque style.

With a firm understanding of the piece, the significance of the piece becomes much easier to comprehend. One of the main reasons why Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ is important is due to its display of the evocative powers of art. One of the most striking traits of this piece lies in its use of chiaroscuro. Through the use of dramatic lighting, Procaccini is able to evoke within the audience a clear sense of the pain and agony of Christ. This sensation is further augmented by the ominous faces that lurk behind Christ, and Christ’s expression of extreme agony.

Even for somebody like myself, who did not at once recognize it as a piece about Christ, it was inevitable to understand that the piece depicted some form of extreme torture, and to feel a sense of helplessness and pain. The companion plaque for the piece found in the MFA could not have put it better. “Procaccini’s shallow, claustrophobic composition – with threatening faces half hidden in the shadows… confront viewers with Christ’s suffering and inspire emotion. ” Seeing as the piece was originally meant to inspire emotion and devotion, it can only be seen as amazing that the piece has such a timeless ability to inspire emotions.

In containing such a timeless quality and being such a masterful example of how much emotion a piece of art is able to evoke, Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ is greatly significant. Procaccini’s piece is also significant for being one of the few to have such a unique subject matter. Asides from its technique being considerably significant, the subject matter of the piece is also one that is rarely portrayed of in art. While at face value, the subject matter is the commonly-seen scourging of Christ, it is rare for a piece to truly depict Christ in pure agony.

As one who did not immediately identify the man as Christ, I was able to notice the pain the character portrayed was in when I first saw the piece. The presence of agony is significant because, in Christian and Catholic paintings, Christ is rarely portrayed as being in unbearable agony due to the fact that his sacrifice was an act out of his affection and compassion for the world. Ergo, in deviating from the norm and being one of the rare pieces existent to portray Christ in pure agony, the piece is significant. Art is powerful in it ability to bring forth emotions and influence its audience.

This ability to draw forth emotions is what constituted the success of artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, and it is also this very ability that pervades Giulio Cesare Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ and makes it so haunting. Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ is important not only in its timeless ability to evoke strong emotions, but also in its existence as one of the few pieces ever made to depict the genuine suffering and agony of Christ. Indeed, in being both masterfully created and one of a kind, Giulio Cesare Procaccini’s The Scourging of Christ is extremely significant in the history of art.

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