His reputation had been established on the strokes of his paintbrush but this particular project seemed to necessitate this particular medium. The thick, sturdy hands skillfully placed the large copperplate down on the work-bench and securely fastened it into place between the clamps. Satisfied that the platter was firmly fixed, he reached over and retrieved his engraving tool cupping the round, wooden handle in his palm.
He was eager to get started.
He surveyed his workshop to ensure that he was indeed alone as his free hand stroked the dulled edges of his metal canvas. Producing prints from the plate had significantly worn down the rough ridges of metal much like contemplating the subject of this piece of artwork had deteriorated his indifference to it. His first depiction of this scene was produced several years earlier and with each restoration, his ever changing interpretation of the event’s significance seemingly required him to offer a more meaningful rendition than originally intended.
He could only portray in copper the imagery he had seen in his mind. And the more he considered the crucifixion of Christ, the more intimate and personal the images became to him. He knew this fourth version would be extremely passionate and personal and, honestly, he wanted it that way.
As he affirmed that thought in his heart, inspiration suddenly struck him. He quickly laid down his engraving tool and picked up another in its place. The stout hands guided the burnishing tool as the burly arms generated the power to polish some of the existing figures until they disappeared and the surface became smooth.
Feverishly he rubs until Roman centurions are removed from the background and other figures standing before the cross are erased. He leaves John the Beloved tearing his hair out with clenched fists standing over Mother Mary who, overcome by sorrow, has collapsed. Mary Magdalene remains at the foot of the cross, clutching it despondently.
He recovers his engraving tool and begins to reconfigure the scene. He strengthens his grip and forcefully deepens his incisions down into the copper. As he retraces existing characters and creates new figures, he wipes down the plate selectively, knowing this will shroud the supporting cast in horrific darkness when the template is inked and printed onto paper. His intention is to accentuate the darkness of the biblical passage in a way never experienced and produce the apex of apprehension and despair.
Next, he turns his attention toward Christ on the cross. Depicted as already dead in the earlier renditions, he now reworks Christ’s image to appear on the precipice of yielding his spirit. With the obscurity of the darkness galvanizing the morose scene, the only shafts of light descending from the heavens pour down the center of the engraving to expose Christ as a suffering, scarred human being carrying the sins of the world and preparing to die. He hopes that this depiction will cause the observer of his work to be thrown into the ninth hour and hear the cry, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
His work has taken hours but it has appeared to him to be only minutes. He takes a moment to wipe the tears from his eyes as they mix with the sweat produced from his labor. He is almost finished. There are only two things left to do.
Over in the murky shadows, just beyond the cross of the unrepentant thief, he carves the image of a man with his head hung low in shame. Perhaps, no one would ever know who the figure symbolized but he would know. For he realized, after years of contemplating The Three Crosses, that it was his sins that nailed Christ to the cross and he must take responsibility.
He must enter the scene.
Tears flowed freely now as he retraced his name in the bottom of the piece of reddish-brown metal.
He signed it: