Pilate Washing His Hands (1511) by Albrecht Durer

Pilate Washing His Hands - Albrecht Durer - 1511

Artwork Information

TitlePilate Washing His Hands
ArtistAlbrecht Durer
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationBritish Museum, London, UK

About Pilate Washing His Hands

The artwork titled “Pilate Washing His Hands” is a creation by Albrecht Durer from the year 1511. Executed as a woodcut, this piece is part of “The Small Passion” series and tells a story from religious narratives. The Northern Renaissance movement is reflected in Durer’s approach, encapsulating elements typical of that era. This particular artwork can be viewed at the British Museum in London, UK.

In the woodcut, we see Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, in the act of washing his hands. This symbolic gesture signifies his attempt to dissociate himself from the decision to crucify Jesus, as depicted in the Christian Bible. Pilate is central in the scene, his face is detailed with expressions of unease or resignation. He stands on a raised platform, which presents him in a position of authority and adds a sense of gravity to the action he’s performing.

The work is teeming with detail that is characteristic of the Northern Renaissance, such as the intricate architectural elements, the patterns on the clothing, and the texture of the pillars and the floor. Durer’s masterful use of line in the woodcut technique is evident, creating depth, shadow, and form with precise and expressive cuts. Surrounding Pilate are what appear to be guards or soldiers, and a figure to his left who holds the bowl for washing, each character adding to the narrative and historical context of the moment. Durer’s monogram, “AD,” sits at the bottom left corner, marking his work.

Noticeably, the figures are dressed in attire that would be more typical of Durer’s time rather than biblical times, which suggests the artist’s interpretation of the scene through a contemporary lens. This melding of biblical narrative with modern dress was not uncommon in artworks of the period, helping to make the story more relatable to the viewers of Durer’s time.

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