Ford Madox Brown chooses to show Christ in a moment of humility, washing the feet of Peter and drying them with his own robes. Kneeling before Peter, Christ is in fact the lowest figure in the painting, and sharp angle of his bowed head accentuates the position of lowliness that Jesus occupies. In typical Pre-Raphaelite fashion, the action of the painting takes place directly in the foreground, and Peter's body is even slightly forward-facing, so that his feet project further downstage, causing the principal act of the scene to stand out.
Nevertheless, Brown has also manipulated the composition of the painting in order to accentuate the figure of Christ himself, which partly counters the air of humility achieved by his posture and employment. Christ is the closest figure to the front of the scene and his bare, well-muscled arms draw attention to his form. Furthermore, Christ's upper body is set against the white background of the table cloth, whereas Brown places the other figures in relative darkness. Most ostensibly, a gold halo encircles Christ's head, emphasizing the paramount message of this painting; Christ is glorious, while he is also humble. Hence, it seems as though Brown sets up the painting to reveal such a paradox, especially when we note that although Christ himself bows his head, each and every figure that frames the scene crouches low towards the divine figure.
1. Look at the hands of each figure. What do you notice?
2. What do the expressions and poses of figures in the background do to the mood of the painting?
3. In the original painting, Christ was naked. What effect would this have had on the way we look at Christ?
4. Why did Brown decide to add clothes?
Last modified 28 May 2007