Christ College Triptych (2001)
Altarpiece in the Chapel, Christ College, Brecon, Powys, Oil on Canvas
“The last loud cry”
The Crucifixion is deliberately painted with a rougher texture to emphasise the extreme harshness and cruelty of the agony that Christ is experiencing. There is nothing of the traditional setting of Crucifixion paintings. There is nothing to distract the viewer from the sense of loneliness, abandonment and horror being felt by Christ the victim. Jesus cries out the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Following which, “with a loud cry he breathed his last.” [Mark 15. 34-36].
It is important that at this moment the viewer is not distracted by the traditional narrative iconography of the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, or of the Roman soldiers casting lots. For it is through this agonising moment of sacrifice that Christ’s glorification is achieved and we are redeemed.
The sky is black, turbulent and threatening, but in the distance there is the light of hope that is just beginning to illuminate the New Jerusalem.
“Drink this all of you.”
The chapel at Christ College is used daily by staff and students. The altarpiece was painted without any antecedent style or iconography in mind, but to bring the meaning of the Eucharist, Passion and Resurrection into focus for those viewing it daily.
Being behind the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated the this panel depicts the central moment of the Eucharist: “After supper, He took the cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying ‘Drink this, all of you…” [Luke 22. 20] He speaks to practicing Christians down the ages, including the current individual viewers, and not just the ‘eleven’. The panel is therefore titled “Drink this all of you”.
Judas is just seen leaving on the right. “He went out, and it was night” [John 13.30]. Those who remain are the faithful of today. They are of all ethnic origins, ages and gender. This also reflects the make up of the staff and student body. They have been painted in the dress in which they came to model for the painting. Christ wants us as we are and not in some historical fancy dress, nor conforming to some supposedly ‘appropriate’ pattern. Jesus is clothed in a chasuble, as he remains eternally the High Priest of all who believe in Him. [Hebrews: Chapter 4].
It is to be noted that there are only ten people apart from Jesus left round the table after Judas’ departure. The gap is for the viewer him/herself: one of today’s disciples and to whom Jesus still speaks these words.
Through the window at the back can be seen the three as yet untenanted crosses, reminding us that it is through the passion, the process started at the Last Supper, that the promise of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life, is bestowed.
In contrast to the Crucifixion panel, the Resurrection is painted with a much smoother texture. By dawn on the third day a new calm ‘light of Christ’ is coming back into the world. [Compare John 1: 9]. Mary Magdalene has been left alone grieving at the tomb after the Peter and John have left. She hears movement and turns. She fails to recognise Jesus who is silhouetted against the dawn sky. He reveals himself to her with the single word “Mary”. He calls all of us by name if only we can listen and see clearly and calmly. To hear it is a moment of supreme peace and a revelation of the deepest meaning of love.
The grave at the bottom left is symbolically far too small. No grave, however secure, can keep God captive. Equally symbolically, the rocky outcrop in which the grave is situated bears a rough resemblance in shape to a church, a focal point for today’s people of God.