Easter in Upton’s Art
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!