(b. 1844, Munkács, d. 1900, Endenich)

Christ before Pilate

Oil on canvas, 417 x 636 cm
Déri Museum, Debrecen

Munkácsy saw Tintoretto's four huge "passion" pictures in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, for the first time. Then he arrived to Budapest and spent two weeks in Kalocsa in the residence of Lajos Haynald, archbishop, a sponsor of ecclesiastical art and a friend of Franz Liszt. Munkácsy must have had the idea of painting the trilogy by then. He started to study the works of Rembrandt and Rubens and after thirty-five studies and sketches in oil, he painted the first composition sketch at the Easter of 1880. The picture was introduced to Karl Sedelmeyer, his sponsor, in Sedelmeyer's palace in Paris. The success which followed the exhibitions in Vienna, Budapest and more than twenty towns in Great Britain was enormous. Sedelmeyer completed the exhibition with sketches, studies, books and cuts. He took the picture to America in November 1886. Munkácsy spent six weeks in New York, Philadelphia and Washington and painted portraits. John Wanamaker, a millionaire, bought the pictures "Christ before Pilate" and "Golgotha" for 120,000 and 100,000 dollars, respectively, in 1887, although some sources claimed that the prices he payed were 175,000 and 160,000 dollars, respectively. Both pictures were borrowed to the World Exhibiton in Paris in 1889 and Wanamaker took them himself to the Chicago Exhibition in 1893. The two pictures were kept in the gallery of his country residence until 1907. When a fire broke out there, the pictures were removed and restored. In 1911-88 the two pictures faced each other in the gallery of the Wanamaker-store on the 8th floor together with pictures by other painters. At the Sotheby's auction in 1988 there was a Canadian man bidding for the picture on the telephone and who bought it in the end. It turned out later that it was Joseph T. Tanenbaum. The picture arrived in Debrecen on 2nd February 1995. After restoration by Miklós Szentkirályi, István Lente and Erzsébet Béres in the spring of 1995, it was exhibited in Hungary on 25th August 1995, 113 years after its first exhibition in Hungary. This was in fact the first time that the complete Christ trilogy was exhibited.

Although the enormous trilogy relies on the words of the Bible (John 18 and 19, and Luke 23), yet it condenses them as well. The picture shows a victorious Christ who is standing in the middle with a radiant whiteness and defeats his spiteful enemies and the hesitating Roman governor. Several contemporary artists (Ivanov, Antokolski, and Gustave Doré) were engaged in the subject matter of the "passion", but Munkácsy's work is second to none. He did not only prove that he knew the Bible, but he demonstrated his psychological skills, that he knew his age and himself, too. He went through the biblical events in a changing age full of doubts and he used it as an excuse to express his thoughts on and disappointment in the world and ethic.