The detail below is taken from Rembrandt’s etching Death of the Virgin (1639). It’s a profile view of the head of the kneeling cross-bearer.
The profile is unusual in that it doesn’t feature an eye, a nose or a mouth. The head is practically faceless.
However, close inspection of the man’s ear reveals two of the facial features – an eye and an open mouth with a protruding tongue doubling up as the ear lobe. The composite represents the adage “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”.
Rembrandt took his lead from the same saying embedded in the Panel of the Friars, the outer left wing of the St Vincent Panels painted by Hugo van der Goes. Hugo’s inspiration came from Jan van Eyck’s version found in the Just Judges panel of the Ghent Altarpiece. Details about this are published in a previous post.
It’s very likely that Van Eyck’s inspiration stemmed from a section of a fresco titled the The Good and Bad Judge which is located in the old court house at Reguenos de Monsaraz. The fresco was also a source for some of the features Hugo van der Goes included in the St Vincent Panels. More about the fresco here.
The shorn and almost-faceless cross-bearer shows up again some thirty years later in Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, as do other figures from this section of the etching.
Interestingly, another faceless, cross-bearer – Christ – is also depicted in the Good and Bad Judge fresco.
You must be logged in to post a comment.