Master of the Karlsruhe Passion, “The Capture of Christ,” circa 1450
The Master of the Karlsruhe’s depiction of the The Capture of Christ focuses on the first moment of the Passion. Whereas the Crucifixion itself is a moment of awful stillness, this depiction of the arrest captures the chaos and unbridled mob mentality that initiated the events of Good Friday. Although filled to the brim with figures, The Capture of Christ offers us only a few main characters: Christ, Peter seen on top right, and Judas on top left. The mob itself becomes the fourth main character.
Christ is bruised and burdened on the bottom of the scene. He is already covered in sores from head to toe, even though the flagellation is yet to come, and he is hunched over, as if already carrying the cross. The image suggests that even here at his capture, he is already walking the way of Calvary. He is carrying a cross not made of wood, but of the whole human mess symbolized by the figures above him. On his way to Calvary, Jesus bears the burden of it all—his expression is one of sorrow and perseverance.
The mob is a motley crew. We see the grotesque faces of soldiers, torchbearers, and trumpeters who have come out in full force against this one man. The individuals become one organic entity filling up the majority of the scene, in some ways repelling the viewer but also inviting us to behold their expressive faces, which are diverse and particular. Some of the expressions are mean, some are curious, and some are suffering. To behold the faces is to encounter imperfect humanity, and perhaps discover ourselves somewhere in this messy bunch.
Peter and Judas are at the top of the scene and offer a pair of contrasts. In his attempt to defend the Lord by cutting off Malchus’ ear, Peter turns fully toward the scene and enters into the reality of it, albeit with an act of violence and impulsive desperation. Judas, on the other hand, is on his way out. We see him from the back, his body turned away, exiting left, carrying the money he received as a reward for his betrayal. He glances back with cautious uncertainty, making sure he is getting away and disengaging from the reality at hand—even though his actions led to it.
The sky above the scene is vibrant with color. The night sky is a deep blue and dotted with stars. The moon casts a large, harsh glow, contrasting with the dark, leafless tree that towers above the struggling Peter and Malchus. On the tree a few leaves linger, but it is unclear whether they can be taken as reminders of life. From the struggle and chaos beneath, it looks as if it can go either way. As Jesus perseveres, faith invites us to join him.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
In the Special Seasons and Lessons section of Christ Our Life, Grade 6, children describe the Easter season as a joyful celebration of the Resurrection and explain the meaning of different Easter liturgical symbols. As you explore the stained-glass depiction of the Resurrection, invite the students to design their own stained-glass windows, using black construction paper for the frames and tissue paper or paper painted with watercolor for the glass. Encourage them to include in their designs symbols of Easter, such as water, candles, fire, Easter lilies, or the lamb.