When Jesus left the praetorium, he began the Passion or journey to Calvary with the cross on his shoulders. In Matthew 27:32 we read: As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. This brief Bible verse of the first encounter Jesus had, as well as the rest of the biblical passages related to it, served in past eras, especially during the Baroque, for the creation of numerous paintings and sculptures in which values such as empathy and compassion are extolled. A common feature of these kinds of works related to the moments before the crucifixion concerns the complexity of the compositions: landscapes with a strong rhetorical and theatrical emphasis, historicist architecture, and the presence of clear anachronisms linking the facts of scripture to everyday life and the artists’ time.
In the case of the Via Crucis paintings, the actions take place in contemporary urban contexts related to the representations of the Latin American people analyzed throughout his career. This, along with the inclusion of objects drawn on different scales, such as tiny crosses alongside monumental figures, maintains a certain continuity with the rest of his works. However, in this latest aspect, Botero has chosen to represent violence, pain and the effects of torture through characters in a real and tangible way. This dramatic turn, which implies the recognition of a kind of corporeality and humanity in his characters, would not have been possible without the works of Violence in Colombia (1999-2004) and Abu Ghraib (2004-2006), which depicts the torture inflicted by the U.S. military on prisoners in Iraq.
This dramatic turn also implies the presence of contemporary characters, sometimes with watches or wedding rings, who participate in the actions with leading or complementary roles. Sometimes they are passive observers who watch the events in horror but do not become directly involved, while other times they allow themselves to be involved, for example, by assisting Jesus with carrying the cross or wiping his face, or even by participating in the torture, as in the case of the police who strike Jesus with cruelty that has nothing to do with carrying out an order. This anachronism, which is frequent in the history of Western religious art, leads the observer to raise an ethical and moral inquiry, to reflect on the human situation in which good and evil coexist, and to critique our societies’ hypocrisy. The cross in Botero’s paintings and drawings is not a genuine wooden object that is able to support Jesus’ weight, but it’s a symbol. It is no coincidence that in the Colombian context the cross is the name given to the obligations and problems of life that, according to Catholic morality, must be endured with resignation.