FRESCO

CALVARY

FOR ST. LEONARD FRIARY

JEAN CHARLOT[1]

The requirements stated by the architect were: a Calvary scene to be painted in true fresco and in subdued colors with dominant browns, so as not to clash with the stained glass in brilliant colors. 

The composition divided itself naturally in four strips of equal width, separated by the three crosses.  The architectural quality of the composition is emphasized by the fact that the uprights of the crosses as well as the lances of the soldiers are true verticals, answering visually the many verticals of the architecture. 

The personages divide themselves, as they did in history, between what we could roughly call good and bad.  Typical of the world ignorant of the meaning of the scene are the Roman soldiers, horsemen with armor and weapons.  For those who feel that they distract from the pious meaning of the scene, it may be said that it so happened then and happens still that the world is rarely in tune with the pious ones.  The horses, crossing powerfully from left to right and crowding the faithful, are thus a worldly symbol.  On the left, the rider exercises with the lance, pointing it towards Christ as a kind of rehearsal of Longinus’ deed.  At the right, the horseman, lance on the shoulder, exits from the picture, considering that the episode has come to an end.  Another soldier discusses with a Pharisee Pilate’s wording of the I.N.R.I.  The Pharisee holds to his roll of scripture, but the horseman is not moved by Jewish logic.

Visually, Christ, dark against the cloud-streaked sky, is the apex of a pyramid underlined by the white of His loincloth.  Light and cloud formations suggest nature’s awareness of the unique moment.  The good thief, a young man, looks with faith towards Christ.  The other, which I like to call the “consistent” thief, having tired himself cursing Christ, having turned his head away from Him, slumps in a coma.

At the foot of the Cross, as tradition has it, Mary stands, helped by John.  They are on the right of the Cross.  Mary Magdalene kneels on the left.  Her despair moves a soldier to ponder the inner meaning of the event. 

Two groups form the base of the pyramid of which Christ is the apex.  Veronica displays the Holy Face, a fresh miracle examined in awe by a kneeling holy woman.  Behind Veronica, two other women typify the Martha and Mary temperaments.  One is immobile in deep meditation.  The other wrings her hands in despair in a more extroverted mimic.  Behind John, a bearded man is a token presence for the Apostles, space forbidding a more detailed presentation. 

Answering the group of the Veronica is, on the other side, the group of soldiers playing at dice on a drum head for the robe of Christ.  The soldier that displays the robe is a sort of evil counterpart to the Veronica that displays the kerchief.  A sword at the feet of the players typifies Roman might. 

At the corners of the wall, two foreground figures.  On the left, Simon of Cyrene, represented with one of his children.  Tradition has it that his conversion was sparked by his taking part in the crucifixion.  On the other side, Nicodemus.  Already preoccupied with the details of Christ’s burial, he holds burial bandelettes in his hands. 

One of the problems that confronted the painter was the fact that the wall is better viewed at a very long distance and always from down looking up.  This, combined with the fact that it is a semicircular wall, suggested a style of presentation that is truly monumental.  It omits realistic details and aims instead at a dramatic simplicity.  I hope that the onlooker, who may at first be disconcerted by the style of the painting, will realize that this was the only way in which the picture could clearly be seen under the circumstances.  It is also my hope that the picture will function in terms of its place and purpose and help, rather than distract, those inclined to prayer and meditation. 

 

 Edited by John Charlot 



[1] Calvary.  St. Leonard Center, Centerville, Ohio, fresco, 34’ X 32’.  July 28–August 22, 1958.