"JESUS AND THE THIEVES"

A Potrait Series by Troy Schooneman


"Jesus and The Thieves" is a series of three portraits inspired by the accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ detailed in the four Canonical Gospels. The series is available for purchase as a fine art limited edition print series in an exclusive print run of 8 only (excluding an edition of 2 artists's proofs), with two sizes available - medium (18 x 21 inches) and large (30 x 35 inches). For more information about purchasing the series, please CLICK HERE or click the purchase button at the end of this page.


The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been depicted in religious art since the 4th century CE - and the earliest Western images originating in the mainstream of the church are 5th-century. Constantine I forbade crucifixion as a method of execution, and early church leaders regarded crucifixion with horror, and thus, as an unfit subject for artistic portrayal. The purported discovery of the True Cross by Constantine's mother, Helena, and the development of Golgotha as a site for pilgrimage, together with the dispersal of fragments of the relic across the Christian world, led to a change of attitude. Thereafter, it became commonplace for crucifixion paintings and sculptures the holy areas of most Western chuches and they became, and remain today, an importrant element of religious iconography.

Early depictions of the crucifixion showed a living Christ, and tended to minimize the appearance of suffering, so as to draw attention to the positive message of resurrection and faith, rather than to the physical realities and brutality of this particular method of execution. In "Jesus and The Thieves" I have also chosen to focus upon the spiritual significance of the crucifixion rather than on the physical suffering and this is reflected in the facial expressions and poses of my three portrait subjects.

The Gospels mention that two unnamed men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27–28,32, Luke 23:33, John 19:18). According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, respectively, both of these men mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32); Luke however, mentions that:

Now one of the other men hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal."

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise."


As a broad generalization, early depictions of the crucifixion scene tended to show all three crosses (those of Jesus, the Penitent (Good) Thief and the Impenitent (Bad) Thief), but later medieval depictions mostly showed just Jesus and his cross. From the Renaissance period on, either type might be shown. The number of other figures shown depended on the size and medium of the work, but there was a similar trend for early depictions to show a number of figures, giving way in the High Middle Ages to just the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, shown standing on either side of the cross.
The earliest crucifixion in an illuminated manuscript, from the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, 586 CE

The earliest crucifixion in an illuminated manuscript, from the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, 586 CE

      Michelangelo, "Crucifixion with Mary and John",  1540 

      Michelangelo, "Crucifixion with Mary and John",  1540 

                  Giotto, "The Crucifixion", c 1330 (Louvre, Paris)

                  Giotto, "The Crucifixion", c 1330 (Louvre, Paris)

Crucifixion has also often appeared as a theme in many forms of modern art. Salvador Dalí painted Corpus Hypercubus, representing the cross as a hypercube. Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's 1975 self-portrait shows the artist, nude and smiling, posed as if crucified. Other artists have used crucifixion imagery as a form of protest. In 1974, Chris Burden had himself crucified to a Volkswagen. Robert Cenedella painted a crucified Santa Claus as a protest against Christmas commercialization, displayed in the window of New York's Art Students League in December 1997.

                                      "The Penitent Thief"

The Penitent Thief is one of two unnamed persons crucified with Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke describes him as asking Jesus to "remember him" when Jesus will have "come into" his Kingdom, to which Jesus replies "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise".

I have chosen to represent the Penitent Thief with his left arm outstretched towards Jesus in an act of supplication, rather than in the pose of crucifixion. This pose more accurately represents his inner peace. His face carries a calm, gentle expression as he is blessed in the knowledge that despite his earthly fate, he shall soon to be reunited with Jesus in Paradise.

                                           "Jesus of Nazareth"

As noted above, early depictions of the crucifixion showed a living Christ, and tended to minimize the appearance of suffering, so as to draw attention to the positive message of resurrection and faith, rather than to the physical realities of execution.

I have also chosen to represent Christ as a figure of serenity rather than to focus on his suffering. His arms are not outstretched above his head as is typical in artistic representations of the crucifixion. Instead, his arms are gently outstreched by his side, as if he is beseeching his Father to forgive those who have condemned him. His facial expression is equally calm, dignified and all-knowing.

                                       "The Impenitent Thief"

The Impenitent Thief is one of two unnamed persons crucified with Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke describes him as mocking Jesus, asking sarcastically "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."

In this portrait, I have chosen to represent the Impenitent Thief as a figure consumed by fear of his impending execution. His torso is taut and his face is turned sharply away from Christ in a possible final act of mocking, or perhaps in the knowledge of his impending doom. Unlike Jesus and The Penitent Thief, who have both been stripped naked, his loin cloth still partially covers his gentials, perhaps a further symbol of his denial of Christ.
Please note that "Jesus and The Thieves" does not claim to be historically, biblically, or theologically accurate. In addition, the ethnicity/skin color of my portrait subjects was not a factor in determining which of the three Biblical figures they were chosen to represent. Instead, such determination was based solely upon the poses of each portrait subject available to me from my archives.

Finally, I would also like to address the full frontal male nudity(1) depicted in "Jesus and The Thieves". It must be understood that, historically, while a crucifixion was a form of execution, it was also a method of great humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have traditionally depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth covering the genitals, either for modesty or possibly for fear of retribution or attack if they were to depict a naked Christ, the person being crucified was usually naked. There continues to be debate about this issue, but historical records favor the fact that the majority of crucifixions were performed with the accused bereft of clothing. Indeed, all four Gospels clearly state that Christ's clothing was removed and distributed among the Roman soldiers.

Interestingly, one of the few depictions of Christ naked upon the cross is attributed to Michelangelo. The crucifix is a relatively small figure that would have been produced in Michelangelo's youth while he was studying anatomy. This polychrome wood sculpture possibly finished in 1492 had been lost from view by scholars until it re-emerged in 1962; in 2001 new investigations appeared to confirm the attribution to Michelangelo. It was perhaps made for the high altar of the Church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy. The work is especially notable for the fact that this Christ is naked.

(1) Please note that the three portraits comprising "Jesus and The Thieves" have been censored for the purpose of display online. Collectors who purchase the series will receive limited edition prints of the uncensored works.