Easter in Upton’s Art

Typtic painting in gold frame by Bosch showing the birth of Christ in stable

Lord Bearsted collected a number of Old Master paintings, on display in the Picture Gallery, many of which have Easter references. Some are easier to spot than others, so have a go a come and see for yourself to discover a different side of Upton's art.

The classic Easter portrayal

The Master of Fabriano’s Last Supper depicts a very well known Easter story and is therefore easy to find.

Master of Fabriano’s Last Supper
Master of Fabriano’s Last Supper

In contrast, El Greco’s Disrobing of Christ, shows a scene from the Easter story which has rarely been painted. Matthew’s gospel tells us that when they had crucified Jesus, they divided his garments among them by casting lots but the actual removal of Christ’s clothing was not described in the Bible. In the painting, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of soldiers and officials whilst a man in a green robe reaches out to remove Jesus’ robe. But probably the best clue that this is part of the Easter story is the carpenter in the foreground who is preparing the cross ready for the crucifixion.

El Greco's Disrobing of Christ, c1570s
Painting by El Greco's, showing the Disrobing of Christ

Now the clues start to get harder! 

Some of the Upton pictures show scenes from the Nativity but nevertheless the Easter clues are still there!  One example is Jan Provoost’s The Nativity at Night which shows the baby Jesus on the stable floor surrounded by pieces of straw, symbolising the crown of thorns. 

Nativity at Night by Jan Provoost hangs in the Picture Gallery at Upton House
Painting called the Nativity at Night by 15th century artist Jan Provoost

Again, Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi is full of symbolic clues! Look at the king’s helmet which shows a pair of pelicans. It was believed that a pelican would pierce its own breast in order to feed its young with its blood and so the pelican became the symbol of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And if you look at the building on the left you will see a white cloth – could this represent the shroud that Christ will wear in the tomb? 

Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi is full of symbolic clues. Look at the king’s helmet which shows a pair of pelicans.
Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi is full of symbolic clues. Look at the king’s helmet which shows a pair of pelicans.

Don’t forget to look at the back of this painting – there is yet another Easter clue!  

Have you ever wondered why the infant Jesus is often depicted giving his mother an apple, as in the Madonna and Child by Gerard David? The apple, of course, is the traditional fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and it is a reminder that Jesus has been put on Earth to die in order to save mankind from original sin.

Madonna and Child by Gerard David
Madonna and Child by Gerard David

Feathered friends

Lastly, the portrait of Master Mockels – (yes it is a boy, even though he’s in a dress!) at first glance seems to have no Easter or any religious connections. However, look at the bird he is holding – it’s a goldfinch. Goldfinches used to be very popular pets because of their beautiful plumage and there’s the clue. Legend has it that it acquired its red spot at the moment when it flew down over the head of Christ on the road from Calvary, and as it drew a thorn from his brow, was splashed with a drop of Jesus’ blood!

Master Mockels by Cologne School, 1650
17th century art work of a young boy

So come along to Upton this Easter, discover more about the art collection by finding the paintings and spotting these Easter clues.