Trafalgar square is named in remembrance of the battle of Trafalgar. At the squares centre is Nelson’s Column guarded by the four large lion statues. The square is a location for political demonstrations and community gatherings and has been used as a location to focus London’s eyes on issues from time to time. In the corner of the square stands one lone plinth. The fourth plinth on the northwest corner was designed in 1841 by Sir Charles Barry to hold a statue of William IV but due to insufficient funds it remains empty.
In 1999 an artist called Mark Wallinger was invited to produce a piece of art to stand on the forth plinth in Trafalgar square. The artist made a human-scale white marble resin sculpture of a Jesus Christ, wearing a crown of gilded barbed wire. Standing around 5 feet the statue stood looking out over the square. Ecce Homo – the Latin title of which means ‘Behold the man’, is a reference to the words of Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus in John 19:5.
All the other statues stand at around 30 feet tall and are made from solid bronze. Mark Wallinger’s Jesus, a life-size, marble-resin cast was dwarfed by its surroundings.
Wallinger said his sculpture of Christ was not meant to be perverse or tongue in cheek. ‘I wanted to show him as an ordinary human being Jesus was at the very least a political leader of an oppressed people and I think he has a place here in front of all these oversized imperial symbols’. Jesus’ statue stood in the shadow of all the other political and military leaders celebrated on the three other plinths.
The day Ecce Homo was presented to the world the Christian world had a lot to say of the statue. Some looked upon the statue with distaste.
One person said “Its sad that Jesus is swallowed up by the size of the other statues, He should have stood bigger and prouder”.
Another person said, “You couldn’t put your faith in someone like that, he’s as weak as a kitten”
One bystander said, “It resembles a shop dummy”.
Another said, “Jesus should have stood taller than the other statues”
And another said “Why is Jesus made from cheap materials when all the others are made from solid bronze?”
For many the statue of Jesus made him look vulnerable, weak and cheap. Many Christians criticised the statue saying it made Jesus frail and he should have stood looking powerful and celebrated in his glory. Those who criticised the 5foot resin sculpture used terms like powerful, mighty and strong to describe their Jesus. One person said he should have been depicted on a white horse with a sword like in the book of Revelation.
Meanwhile one older lady stood by the statue and said it reminded her of the Jesus she had met on the cross. The statue reminded her of Jesus’ vulnerability at his trial and crucifixion. She said, “My Jesus doesn’t need to challenge the other statues in size because his power was not in this way. My Jesus died for me in his vulnerability and we mustn’t forget that”. Jesus’ death was a triumph over political and military power, not by the fist but by submission. Jesus’ power came not in physical strength but his true divine power of resurrection.
Art critic Richard Dorment said “What Wallinger has done is to turn Trafalgar Square into a meditation on the transience of earthly things, making all other statues in the square look hopelessly pompous”.
Jesus’ statue makes all the other statues look grotesquely arrogant, hopelessly pompous.
I wonder how Jesus would look when standing next to us. Would he look in place? Would we make us look weak and vulnerable or do you think with our own egos, our own pride, our own power and our own strength it would make us look grotesquely arrogant, hopelessly pompous?
How often do we miss Jesus’ authority and power in his humbleness and humility? I wonder how often we miss our own arrogance and pride and if we were to stand beside Jesus we would realise our own grotesque self-importance?
Do you wish to stand beside the powerful military with political supremacy, surrounded by bronze lions and standing 35feet tall? Or do you wish to stand beside the frail and vulnerable Jesus, who subverts the power of Rome to reveal true raw power?
Ecce Homo – ‘Behold the man’, who not only dies for the world as a political prisoner brought before a lynch mob, but also resurrects for them.