Flagellation of Christ

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Flagellation of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens
Stained glass from Dalhem Church, Sweden (c. 1240)
1863 Philippines "Jesús Desmayado"

The Flagellation of Christ, in art sometimes known as Christ at the Column or the Scourging at the Pillar, is an episode from the Passion of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. As such, it is frequently shown in Christian art, in cycles of the Passion or the larger subject of the Life of Christ. Catholic tradition places the Flagellation at the beginning of Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, and the modern alternate Stations of the Cross locate it at the fourth station; it represents a Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary.[1][2] The column to which Christ is normally shown to be tied, and the rope, scourge, whip or birch are elements in the Arma Christi.[3] The Basilica di Santa Prassede in Rome is one of the churches claiming to possess the original column or parts of it.

In art, the subject was first depicted as one of a series of Passion scenes, but from the 15th century onwards it was also painted in individual works. The most-discussed single work is the enigmatic treatment on a small panel in Urbino by Piero della Francesca (1455–1460), the precise meaning of which has eluded generations of art historians. At the same time, Christ at the Column or Christ at the Stake developed as an image of Christ alone tied to a column or stake. This was most popular in Baroque sculpture, and also related to the subject, not found in the canonical Gospels, of Christ in the Dungeon. It is often difficult to distinguish between these two subjects, and between Christ at the Column and a Flagellation.[4]


Flagellation at the hands of the Romans is mentioned in three of the four canonical Gospels: John 19:1, Mark 15:15, and Matthew 27:26, and was the usual prelude to crucifixion under Roman law.[5] None of the three accounts is more detailed than John's "Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged" (NIV). Luke's comparable account, Luke 22:63–65 is of the High Priest's guards beating and mocking Jesus. In the Passion of Christ, the episode precedes the Mocking of Christ and the Crowning with Thorns, which according to the Gospels happened at the same time or immediately afterwards. Unlike the flogging, these were not part of the normal Roman judicial process.[6]

In art[edit]

The Flagellation first appears in Western art in the 9th century. It is almost never found in Byzantine art, and remains very rare in Eastern Orthodox art of any date. Initially found in illuminated manuscripts and small ivories, there are surviving monumental wall-paintings of the subject from around 1000 in Italy. From the start, there are most often three figures, Christ and two servants of Pontius Pilate who flog him. In early depictions, Christ may be naked, or wearing a long robe, facing out or seen from behind; from the 12th century it is standard for Christ to wear a loincloth (perizoma) and face out towards the viewer.[7] Christ's face is normally visible, giving artists the "technical problem of showing him receiving the strokes on his back – the usual place – while at the same time leaving his face visible".[8] Often, he appears to be receiving strokes on the front of his body.

Pontius Pilate is sometimes shown watching the scene, and his wife's servant may approach him with her message, and in the later Middle Ages, probably under the influence of Passion plays, the number of men beating Christ may be three or four, increasingly caricatured in the North as grotesque figures in the dress of contemporary mercenaries.[9] Sometimes another figure, who may be Herod, is present. The Flagellation was at the hands of those working for Pontius Pilate, but the floggers may sometimes wear Jewish hats.[10] Following the Maestà of Duccio, the scene may take place in public, before an audience of the Jewish people.[11]

The Franciscans, who promoted self-flagellation as a means of identification with the suffering of Christ, were probably responsible for a number of large Italian processional crosses in which the Flagellation occupies the back of the cross, with a Crucifixion on the front. These were presumably sometimes followed in processions by flagellants, who could see Christ suffering in front of them.[12]

Notable examples[edit]

Single works:

In cycles:

Gallery of art[edit]

In film and music[edit]

The flagellation of Jesus ("Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)") is a climactic event in the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar.[13][circular reference] Modern filmmakers have also depicted Christ being flogged. It is a significant scene in Mel Gibson's 2004 The Passion of the Christ. In Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Alex imagines himself as a Roman soldier flogging Jesus.[14]


Alleged pieces of the Column or Pillar of the Flagellation, also called the Scourging Post, are kept at different locations.

Column relic at Santa Prassede in Rome

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The encyclopedia of visual art, Volume 4 by Lawrence Gowing 1983, Encyclopedia Britannica, page 626
  2. ^ Old Master Paintings and Drawings by Roy Bolton 2009 ISBN 1-907200-01-0 page 70
  3. ^ Schiller, Gertrud (1972). Iconography of Christian Art: The Passion of Christ, pp. 66–68. ASIN: B000KGWGH4.
  4. ^ Schiller, 69
  5. ^ Schiller, 66; Academic in Newsweek
  6. ^ Schiller, 66
  7. ^ Schiller, 66–67
  8. ^ Hall, James, Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, 123, 1996 (2nd edn.), John Murray, ISBN 0719541476
  9. ^ Schiller,68
  10. ^ See, for example Schiller fig. 231, a 13th-century wall-painting from Cologne
  11. ^ Schiller, 68
  12. ^ Schiller, 67
  13. ^ Jesus Christ Superstar (album)
  14. ^ D. K. Holm (4 February 2004). "The Passion of the Christ". Nocturnal Admissions. Movie Poop Shoot. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 6 November 2009.
  15. ^ Holy Wednesday in Jerusalem: the veneration of the Column from the website of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, 20 April 2020. Accessed 6 October 2023.
  • Schiller, G. (1972). Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II. London: Lund Humphries. pp. 66–69, figures 225–234 etc. ISBN 0-85331-324-5. English translation from German