The Crucifixion: famous paintings of New Testament events in the life of Jesus

Jesus on the cross 

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Icon of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ

Modern images of Jesus and Mary: Mary in 'The Passion of the Christ'

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of Jesus and Mary

Mary and the angel Gabriel


Birth of Jesus

Finding the Saviour in the Temple, William Hunt, detail

Jesus' family

Photograph by Michael Belk

Jesus and children

Mary Magdalene sculpture

Mary Magdalene

Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, by Velázquez

Martha & Mary

Mary of Nazareth

Mary of Nazareth

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, Flandrin

Entry to Jerusalem

Jesus and the money changers

Jesus & the money-changers

Painting, Last Supper, Joos van Cleve

The Last Supper

Agony in the Garden, Heinrich, Gethsemane

Agony in the Garden

Spanish wood carving, The Kiss of Judas

Betrayal by Judas

Passion of Christ, Cranach

The Passion

Ecce Homo, by Quintin Massys

Jesus before Pilate

Jesus taken down from the cross, painting detail

Descent from the cross

Burial of Jesus

Painting of the resurrected Christ


Fra Angelico, angel from painting of the Annunciation


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Nail piercing feet of a crucified man

Crucifixion : what archaeology shows

Reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus

at the time of Jesus

The route to Calvary 

Route to Calvary

Aerial view of Jerusalem showing the site of the Temple

Maps of 
Jerusalem & Galilee

Crucifixion, by the Russian painter Nicolai Ge

The Death of Jesus

Model of the inner courts of the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus

Buildings Jesus knew

Herod, Pilate, Judas

Jesus, as visualized in the movie 'Passion of the Christ'

Famous Bible movies





The crucifixion of Jesus was a central event in the gospels. Some painters glossed over the horrifying details, presenting a glorified Christ; others showed the agony of crucifixion. They showed Jesus alone in his final moments or surrounded by anguished disciples. See  Hidden Meanings  for more on the way that artists depicted crucifixion.

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald

Crucifixion, Nicolai Ge

Crucifixion, Nicolai Ge

Preparatory sketch for Christ in 'Calvary'

Preparatory sketch for Christ in 'Calvary'

Crucifixion, Giotto

Giotto, Crucifixion of Jesus, with Mary and John


Crucifixion, Francis Bacon, 1933

Crucifixion, Francis Bacon, 1933


Study for a figure at the base of a Crucifixion, Francis Bacon


The figure at the foot of the cross is horrific: half-human, half-beast. Its screaming mouth protests against man's inhumanity to man. Some critics say that Bacon's inspiration for this image came from the wounded nurse in Eisenstein's 1925 film Battleship Potemkin - see the movie clip of this scene. The gaping mouth breathing black air may also reflect Bacon's severe asthma, 
which eventually killed  him in 1992.


Crucifixion, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Altarpiece of the Sacraments

Crucifixion, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Altarpiece of the Sacraments

Christ of St John of the Cross, Salvador Dali

Christ of St John of the Cross, Salvador Dali

The Yellow Christ, by Gauguin

The Yellow Christ, by Gauguin

Crucifixion, Tintoretto, 1565

Crucifixion, Tintoretto, 1565


Crucifixion, Antony van Dyck, 1622

Crucifixion, Antony van Dyck, 1622

Crucifixion, Francisco du Zurbaran, 1627, Spain

Crucifixion, Francisco du Zurbaran, 1627, Spain

Crucifixion, Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Crucifixion, Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Crucifixion, Rembrandt

Crucifixion, Rembrandt

Crucifixion, Thomas Eakins, 1880

Crucifixion, Thomas Eakins, 1880

Crucifixion, Velazquez

Crucifixion, Velazquez

Crucifixion, Veronese, 1580

Crucifixion, Veronese, 1580

Crucifixion, Pablo Picasso, 1930

Crucifixion, Pablo Picasso, 1930

Crucifixion, Giulio Procaccini

Crucifixion, Giulio Procaccini



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  Hidden meanings    in paintings of the Crucifixion
  • In Roman times crucifixion was a widely used form of capital punishment, reserved for baser criminals and slaves. It was probably carried out differently from the way it is presented in art. At the site of the execution the upright post was already set into the ground; it could be used many times. 

  • The condemned man was led to the place of execution carrying only the horizontal piece to which his hands were already tied to prevent resistance. On arrival his hands (or wrists) were nailed to the ends of the cross-bar which was then lifted on to the upright. It either rested across the top, to form a 'T' or was set somewhat lower down, forming the familiar crux immissa (intersecting). In either case the pieces were secured by some form of mortise and tenon. Finally the feet were nailed to the upright.

  • The early Church avoided images of the Crucifixion, because they showed that Jesus had died as a criminal.

  • At the time when Christianity was forbidden by the Romans, the crucifixion was represented symbolically by the lamb of Christ juxtaposed with a cross. Even after the age of Constantine the Great, when Christians were allowed to practise their religion without interference, the cross itself was still represented without the figure of Christ.

  • Later paintings show Jesus on the cross, but no-one else nearby; they were aids to devotion, a focus for prayer, not pictures of the scene.

  • Other paintings tell the story of the Crucifixion; they are crowded with people, as in the work of Italian Renaissance artists. There were figures from the gospels who became a permanent feature of the crucifixion: the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist, the centurion and the sponge-bearer, the two thieves, the soldiers casting lots. 

  • For many centuries Christ was shown alive and open-eyed, a triumphant Saviour wearing a royal crown. In the 11th century however there appeared a new type, the emaciated figure with its head fallen on one shoulder and wearing a crown of thorns. 

  • In art up to the 13th century the usual number of nails was four (including one for each foot), but after this it was usually three, (one foot nailed over the other).

  • In antiquity an inscription stating the nature of the condemned man's offence was hung round his neck as he was led to execution, and was afterwards fixed to the head of the cross. John (19:19-20) tells how Pilate 'wrote an inscription to be fastened to the cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews" . . . in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.' In Renaissance art it is usually given in Latin only, 'Iesus Nazarenes Rex Iudaeorum', abbreviated to `INRI'.

  • The medieval Church debated whether Christ was naked on the cross; in ancient Rome this was standard practice. Usually he is shown with a thin band of cloth extending round the waist and under the crotch. The loincloth was an invention of artists in the early Middle Ages.

  • The two thieves were crucified with Christ, one on each side. Luke adds that one rebuked the other saying that their punishment was deserved whereas Christ was innocent, and was told by the Saviour, 'Today you shall be with me in Paradise.' Art distinguished between the penitent and impenitent thief. The good is on Christ's right (the 'good' side); his expression is peaceful where the other's is anguished. The names by which they are generally known, Dismas and Gestas (good and bad), are taken from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus.

  • The soldiers who crucified Christ divided his clothes into four parts, one for each soldier. Of the seamless tunic, woven in one piece, they said, 'We must not tear this; let us toss for it.' They are either at the foot of the cross or in a corner of the picture. One is in the act of throwing dice while the others look on.

  • The Virgin and St John stand by the cross. This scene was originally intended to express the scene from John's gospel (19:26-27) in which Christ, while he still lived, entrusted the Virgin to the care of the apostle John. The Virgin stands on the right of Christ, St John on the left. Their heads are inclined. She may have raised her left hand to her cheek, supporting the elbow with the other hand, a traditional gesture of sorrow dating back to Hellenistic times. 
    The Virgin swoons into the arms of the holy women. There is no mention of this in the gospels - it is a creation of later medieval preachers and writers. They assumed that she was overcome with anguish, and suggested she swooned three times: on the Road to Calvary, at the crucifixion and after the descent from the cross.

  • In early paintings Mary Magdalene wears a red cloak. Later she appears richly attired and with her usual copious hair, kneeling at the foot of the cross or embracing it in passionate grief. She may kiss the bleeding feet or wipe them with her hair. 


The Bible text - the death of Jesus

Matthew 27:33-56

33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull),
they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 
And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots; 
then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews." 
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 
and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 
So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 
"He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 
He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" 
And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. 
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 
And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "This man is calling Elijah." 
And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. 
But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." 
And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; 
the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 
and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" 
There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; 
among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Mark 15:22-41

22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 
And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it. 
24 And they crucified him, and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 
25 And it was the third hour, when they crucified him. 
26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 
And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 

* [No text] 

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 
30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 
So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 

Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. 

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 
35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Eli'jah." 
And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Eli'jah will come to take him down." 

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. 

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" 

There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salo'me, 

who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

Luke 23:33-49

33 And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. 
And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. 
35 And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" 
36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 
and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 
38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 

But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 

And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 
42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 
43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 
while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 
46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. 
47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, "Certainly this man was innocent!" 
And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 
49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.

John 19:17-37

17 So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol'gotha.
There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."

Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'"

Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom;

so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." This was to fulfil the scripture, "They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots."

So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag'dalene.

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!"

Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst."

A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.

When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him;

but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
35 He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth--that you also may believe.
For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him shall be broken."

And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced."

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Bible Art: Paintings and Artworks from the New Testament:  The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ

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Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher