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The Crucifixion - A Triptych

Bernard Sleigh (1872–1954), The Crucifixion: A Triptych, 1906, oil on canvas, 84 x 32 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Verla Birrell and Campbell Foundation.

BERNARD SLEIGH (1872–1954)

Sleigh’s elaborate Crucifixion is a compelling synthesis of nineteenth-century revival styles that hearken to medieval artistic conventions, as well as more avant-garde symbolist modes. Designed as an altarpiece for the inmates of London’s Holloway Prison, the inscription at the head of the cross, “THE LORD HATH LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL,” made this altarpiece particularly poignant for its viewers. Cognizant of this audience, Sleigh includes a man in chains at the foot of the cross who pleads for forgiveness and mercy. Four figures representing the four pillars of society surround the cross: a knight (military), a judge (law), a king (government), and a bishop (religion). Each bows his head or knee to the Savior, offering up an emblem of his earthly power and authority. The knight holds out a broken sword, symbolic of the end of all war (Isaiah 2:4).

The torn scroll placed before the judge and the removed crown of the king signify Christ as the new Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isaiah 33:22). The bishop removes his miter and lowers his crosier, submitting to the supreme “Bishop of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Standing immediately to the right of the prisoner, the artist looks out to the viewer, clothed as a shepherd—a reference to the humble shepherds that attended Christ’s birth and also to the artist’s Welsh ancestors, who were shepherds for many generations. The artist’s wife and their two young children are pictured on the far right panel, participants in the worship of the crucified Christ. Thus, the artist transforms the Crucifixion into a contemporary event and invites viewers to likewise place themselves within the context of the scene.

Curricular Resources

The MOA has created suggested discussion prompts and assignments for BYU CIV faculty and students to use. Each assignment is based on themes that correspond with GE learning outcomes.

View Curricular Resources Related to This Work:
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