Treasures of Campion Hall: Roy De Maistre

Christ falls under the Cross, Roy De Maistre, by Rev'd James Hanvey, SJ.

Through the generosity of Mrs. Lucy Carter (née Rothenstein), the Hall recently acquired a small but powerful work of the Australian artist Roy de Maistre (1894–1968), Christ falls under the Cross (20 cm x 27 cm).

The painting moves on several planes: colour, shapes and perspectives but also theologically. At first view, the cross lying on the diagonal top right to bottom left dominates the whole landscape which moves from the bottom plane on which we stand into the distant horizon at the top. One is aware here that the whole world is somehow crushed under the burden of the cross. Slowly, we can begin to discern the human figure - only the head crowned with thorns and the hands stretching out and the feet appearing from under the mass of the cross. We have an immediate sensation of the weight under which the body lies. It is is intensified, for the human figure, face pushed into the earth, is overwhelmed; there is no possibility of having the strength to get out from underneath this massive structure.

In a masterful way, de Maistre achieves an intimate intensity of emotion and form which is both particular and universal. We are in no doubt, of course, that it is Christ who lies pinioned between the weight of the cross and the unyielding hardness of the earth, but because his face is buried and his arms splayed out, hands clenching the soil, in supplication as well as pain, he is also all the victims of oppression and cruelty in the barren landscape of ruthless power. He is alone, and before his sense of helplessness we cease to be the viewer and become the crowd, the powerless onlooker. The complex pallet of de Maistre - displaying his theory of colour - draws us in to a moment that is dynamic yet still, dense and intense but possessing the emptiness of the desert; a moment in which we can begin to understand the immensity of human suffering and powerlessness and hear the mute cry to God, yet experiencing that this is His drama too. As Heather Johnston observes in her study of de Maistre’s Stations of the Cross, "In this work, de Maistre has drawn together his superior skill in colour and design and his deep piety to produce a work in which the colour and design act to depict and evoke the horror of Christ’s burden - made all the more terrible because of its beauty." (Roy De Maistre, the English Years 1930-1968) 

This new de Maistre benefaction to the Hall dramatically complements his other painting of the suffering of Christ which we already possess, the Veil of Veronica, on which by tradition Christ’s face was imprinted when she offered it to him to clean his face on his way to Calvary.