Lucas van Leyden’s Soldiers Giving Christ a Drink (c.1512)

In this rare scene during Christ's Passion two soldiers stand on either side of a suffering Christ apparently offering him a drink. One points, according to the British Museum, at the dish of water held by the other even though his finger is more obviously directed at Christ’s head. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Van Leyden, Soldiers Giving Christ a Drink (c.1512) Engraving on paper. British Museum, London

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That, in turns, suggests that his finger, on the poetic level, is the “pointing” finger of a painter. You can see many more examples by other artists under the theme, Pointing and Touch. Furthermore, the pointing man is in the foreground, one foot firmly set in the lower right-hand corner as if to emphasize that he represents the artist. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Van Leyden, Soldiers Giving Christ a Drink with detail at left

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His counterpart, on the other side of Christ, holds a dish of water, roundish like a “palette”, with his thumb tensely separated from the fingers as it always is when placed through the thumb-hole of a palette. Thus Christ’s figure, art’s archetypal subject, is a “work of art” encompassed on either side by two “artists”. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Lucas van Leyden's Soldiers Giving Christ a Drink

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The soldiers may superficially be offering Christ a drink but, on the underlying level, represent the two sides of the artist’s mind unified through their "painting" to become Christ-like. Soldiering is a common disguise for an artist's self-representation used in the Netherlands by Rembrandt as well.

As if in confirmation that the artist has indeed represented himself as Christ, the visible part of the Cross forms an L, like the L of his monogram at the top of the sheet.

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Lucas van Leyden's Soldiers Giving Christ a Drink

 

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Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 08 Nov 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.