What Our Lord Saw from the Cross

What Our Lord Saw from the Cross

(Ce que voyait Notre-Seigneur sur la Croix)


James Tissot (1886-1894) • Watercolor • 9 ¾ x 9 1/16 • Brooklyn Museum, NY


By Bruce Menzies


In the most memorable of James Tissot’s images, the artist here adopts the point of view of Christ himself. I personally have never seen a composition this daring. However, this painting gives viewers a rare opportunity to imagine themselves in Christ’s place, and consider his final thoughts and feelings.


Yes, it gives us an idea of how people of the time dressed and looked. But on this hill, so far away, Christ might have seen the Garden of Gethsemane, the place of so many of his prayers to the Father and where he agonized just the previous night before his arrest and the Mount of Olives, where he taught the disciples so much of what was in their future. Below him Christ would have seen the faces of enemies, the dismay of friends and the indifferences of so many.


The men on the horseback are Jewish scribes. They seem satisfied with the situation, after all, they were the ones who had pressed Pilate into having Christ crucified. In the background, Tissot has painted a newly carved tomb in which Christ probably knew he’d be lain the same night.


To the Roman soldiers assigned to the governor’s palace, it’s just another Friday afternoon and nothing else matters except to win the games they’re playing. So close to the Cross and yet so far from the Savior. And yet for one centurion, something broke through this man’s hardened heart and convinced him that, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54). In our despair in life, we need look no further for salvation than the Cross—it’s just that powerful. ▪