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P5 - Jesus through Art: The way to Calvary

These activities appear in the book Jesus Through Art by Margaret Cooling by Religious and Moral Education Press.  The book is out of print.  Please advise if this book becomes in print again, and this section will be removed from the website. The booksChristianity Through Art andThe Bible Through Art are still available from Religious and Moral Education Press.
Teacher notes

The Way to Calvary by Ugolino di Nerio, active 1317-1327

Introducing the painting to pupils

Discuss different types of processions (weddings, funerals, carnivals). These can be explored in drama.  This painting makes the journey to the cross look like a procession.

Background to the Painting 

This panel formed the central scene of the base, or predella, of an altarpiece in the church of Santa Croce, Florence, and was painted in about 1324-1325. The altar­piece has since been split up, and many fragments are lost. The predella consisted of seven scenes of Jesus' Passion (suffering and death). This is one of four sections from the predella on display in the National Gallery. 

Ugolino di Nerio (Oogoh-Ieenoh dee Nair-ee-oh), also known as Ugolino da Siena, was influenced by Duccio.  His work is generally less graceful than Duccio's, with overtones of tragedy. Duccio's colours are soft and subtle, Ugolino's are harsher and sharper. 

Jesus carries the cross on his way to Calvary (Golgotha). Some people move forward, others stand still. There is a hesitation, a longing look back, even though the movement is forward. Jesus is led by a rope tied around his neck. He looks back at his mother, Mary, and the women who are with her - the same women who have followed him during his life, listening to him teach. The faces of the soldiers who lead Jesus to his cross are brutal and unfeeling. 

Around Jesus' head a halo of gold indicates his divinity, but the emotion is thoroughly human. 

A Christian Understanding of the Biblical Story 

Jesus chose the path of suffering during his temptations.  He continued to take that path all through his life. That does not mean he was not tempted to take a different route, or to achieve his ends by different means. Before he was arrested, he prayed that some other way might be found. Christians believe he did not look for suffering, but faced it when there was no other way. 

People followed Jesus on the road to Calvary (Golgotha), and Simon of Cyrene (from Libya, North Africa) helped to carry his cross. That short journey to Calvary is a picture of what it can mean to be a Christian. Jesus said that his followers must be willing to take up their own cross. He did not mean this literally: he meant that being a Christian is hard and may mean suffering. His followers soon discovered this in Roman arenas. Today, people still suffer for their faith in many countries. 

Conversation Points 

1) There are two sorts of movements in this painting - ­forwards and backwards. Jesus moves forward but looks backwards. There is pushing and pulling and looking back. Why do you think that is? 

2) The women followed Jesus to Calvary when all the disciples except John had run away. Why do you think the women stayed but not the men? 

3) One person helped out on this journey to Calvary. Read the story and find out who it was. Why do you think that the artist shows Jesus carrying his cross and not someone else? 


1) Play recordings of different pieces of processional music. For example: 

· A Military Pageant 
· 'Entry of the Queen of Sheba' from 'Solomon' by Handel 
· 'Marche Funebre', the 3rd movement of Chopin's Piano Sonata Number 2 
· The theme (by Purcell) or variations from Britten, 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra' 

Pupils can then choose a piece suitable for this painting.

2) The people in this painting are carefully grouped together. Pupils can cut up a photocopy of the drawing on the Activity Sheet (sketch downloadable below) and separate the groups. They can then write a description of each group and the role these people play in the story. Ask pupils to look closely at the faces of the people in each group.  Are they individuals or are they drawn as a group? 

3) Life is full of journeys, all for different purposes.   Discuss some of these with pupils. For Jesus, the road to Calvary was the final part of a long journey which he had been making all his life. Pupils can draw a life-journey line for Jesus, marking on it significant events such as birth, escape to Egypt, home in Nazareth, ministry, entry into Jerusalem, arrest, trial, death. Small symbols can be ­used for each event: a stable, a cross, etc. 

For more activities click here and here
For a sketch of The Way to Calvary click here

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