Ecce homo

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Ecce homo ("behold the man", Ecclesiastical Latin: [ˈɛttʃɛ ˈɔmɔ], Classical Latin: [ˈɛkkɛ ˈhɔmoː]) are the Latin words used by Pontius Pilate in the Vulgate translation of John 19:5, when he presents a scourged Jesus Christ, bound and crowned with thorns, to a hostile crowd shortly before his Crucifixion. The original Greek is Ίδε ό άνθρωπος (Ide ho anthropos). The Douay-Rheims Bible translates the phrase into English as "Behold the man!"[John 19:5] The scene has been widely depicted in Christian art.

Artistic subject

A scene of the Ecce Homo is a standard component of cycles illustrating the Passion and Life of Christ in art. It follows the Flagellation of Christ, the Crowning with thorns and the Mocking of Christ, the last two often being combined. The usual depiction shows Pilate and Christ, the mocking crowd and parts of the city of Jerusalem.

But, from the 15th century, devotional pictures began to portray Jesus alone, in half or full figure with a purple robe, loincloth, crown of thorns and torture wounds, especially on his head. Similar subjects but with the wounds of the crucifixion visible (Nail wounds on the limbs, spear wounds on the sides), are termed a Man of Sorrow(s) (also Misericordia). If the "Instruments of the Passion" are present, it may be called an Arma Christi. If Christ is sitting down (usually supporting himself with his hand on his thigh), it may be referred to it as Christ at rest or Pensive Christ. It is not always possible to distinguish these subjects.

Early depictions

File:Titian - Christ Shown to the People (Ecce Homo).jpg
Ecce Homo by Titian, between circa 1570 and circa 1576

The first depictions of the ecce homo scene in the arts appear in the 9th and 10th centuries in Syrian-Byzantine culture. Western depictions in the Middle Ages that often seem to depict the ecce homo scene, (and are usually interpreted as such) more often than not only show the crowning of thorns and the mocking of Christ, (cf. the Egbert Codex and the Codex Aureus Epternacensis) which precede the actual ecce homo scene in the Bible. The independent image only developed around 1400, probably in Burgundy, but then rapidly became extremely popular, especially in Northern Europe.[1]

The motif found increasing currency as the Passion became a central theme in Western piety in the 15th and 16th centuries. The ecce homo theme was included not only in the passion plays of medieval theatre, but also in cycles of illustrations of the story of the Passion, as in the Passions of Albrecht Dürer or the prints of Martin Schongauer. The scene was (especially in France) often depicted as a sculpture or group of sculptures; even altarpieces and other paintings with the motif were produced (by, for example, Hieronymus Bosch or Hans Holbein). Like the passion plays, the visual depictions of the ecce homo scene, it has been argued, often, and increasingly, portray the people of Jerusalem in a highly critical light, bordering perhaps on antisemitic caricatures. Equally, this style of art has been read as a kind of simplistic externalisation of the inner hatred of the angry crowd towards Jesus, not necessarily implying any racial judgment.

The motif of the lone figure of a suffering Christ who seems to be staring directly at the observer, enabling him/her to personally identify with the events of the Passion, arose in the late Middle Ages. A parallel development was that the similar motifs of the Man of Sorrow and Christ at rest increased in importance. The subject was used repeatedly in later prints (for example, by Jacques Callot and Rembrandt), the paintings of the Renaissance and the Baroque, as well as in Baroque sculptures.

Hieronymus Bosch painted his first Ecce Homo during the 1470s.[2] He returned to the subject in 1490 to paint in a characteristically Netherlandish style, with deep perspective and a surreal ghostly image of praying monks in the lower left-hand corner.

In 1498, Albrecht Dürer depicted the suffering of Christ in the Ecce Homo of his Great Passion, print series in unusually close relation with his self-portrait, leading to a reinterpretation of the motif as a metaphor for the suffering of the artist. James Ensor used the ecce homo motif in his ironic print Christ and the Critics (1891), in which he portrayed himself as Christ.

Recent usage

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Ecce Homo, 1871.
Adam Chmielowski Ecce Homo, 1879-1881.

One of the more famous modern versions of the Ecce Homo motif was that by the Polish artist, Adam Chmielowski who went on to found, as Brother Albert, The Congregation of Albertine Brothers Serving the Poor (CSAPU) and a year later, Albertine Sisters, eventually becoming proclaimed a saint on 12 November, 1989 by Pope John Paul II, the author of a play about Chmielowski, written between 1944-1950 when the future Pontiff and later himself a saint was a young priest. Chmielowski's "Ecce Homo" (146cm x 96.5cm, unsigned, painted between 1879 and 1881), was significant in Chmielowski's life, as it is in the I Act of Wojtyła's play. Pope John Paul II is said to have kept a copy of this painting in his apartment at the Vatican.[3] The original can be viewed in the Ecce Homo Sanctuary of the Albertine Sisters in Kraków. It was painted at a time when the painter was going through an inner struggle, trying to decide whether to remain an artist, or to give up painting to pursue the calling to minister to the poor.[4]

Especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, the meaning of ecce homo motif has been extended to the portrayal of suffering and the degradation of humans through violence and war. A notable 20th-century depiction is Lovis Corinth's work Ecce Homo (1925), which shows, from the perspective of the crowd, Jesus, a soldier and Pilate dressed as a physician. Following the Holocaust of World War II, Otto Dix portrayed himself as the suffering Christ in a concentration camp, in Ecce Homo with self-likeness behind barbed wire (1948).

By contrast, Antonio Ciseri's 1871 Ecce Homo portrayal presents a semi-photographic view of a balcony seen from behind the central figures of a scourged Christ and Pilate (whose face is not visible). The crowd forms a distant mass, almost without individuality, and much of the detailed focus is on the normally secondary figures of Pilate's aides, guards, secretary and wife.

An Ecce Homo fresco by 19th-century Spanish painter Elías García Martínez gained notoriety in August 2012 when a woman named Cecilia Giménez took it upon herself to restore it without any training or expertise, resulting in Jesus' looking like "a very hairy monkey".[5][6] The "monkey Christ" painting has become a tourist attraction and destination, as well as the basis of a popular internet meme. So many people were flocking to see the painting that the town started charging an admission fee, which has raised more than 50,000 euros (£43,000) for charity as of mid August 2013.[7]

In popular culture

In the 2012 movie Laurence Anyways, when the title character walks out of a disciplinary meeting after her recent sex change, she writes the Latin words on a blackboard.

This phrase was uttered by Adam in the Northern Exposure episode "A Bolt from the Blue" while talking to Ed Chigliak about why he was struck by lightning.

Works with articles


See also


  1. G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II,1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, pp.74-75, figs 236, 240, 256-273
  2. "Ecce Homo". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved on 24 May 2009.
  5. "Spanish fresco restoration botched by amateur". BBC. 23 August 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Ecce Homo 'restorer' wants a slice of the royalties Barry Neild, The Guardian, Thursday 20 September 2012 21.14 BST
  7. "'Monkey Christ' fresco boosts tourism". BBC. Retrieved 14 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>