Christ Crowned with Thorns is a 1619-20 painting by Anthony van Dyck. He produced it aged 20 during his first Antwerp period, when he was the main studio assistant and pupil of Peter Paul Rubens. It shows Rubens' influence in its relatively sombre palette, chiaroscuro and highly realistic portrayal of musculature. He seems to have completed it early during his stay in Italy, since it also shows the influence of Titian and other Venetian painters in Jesus' face.
Once it was complete, van Dyck offered the painting to Rubens, who declined it. It was then bought by Philip IV of Spain, who held it in the Escorial before it entered the Prado Museum in 1839.
Christ is seated facing the viewer in the middle of this large canvas (the figures are almost life-size), sad yet composed, surrounded by five men whose role in this story is to personify evil. Van Dyck has presented a cast of five men in various attitudes of mocking respect, but...he finds it hard to portray a truly ugly human being. The kneeling man on the right presents Christ with a bulrush as a scepter, but without thrusting it at him or betraying disdain in his facile expression; the dirty sole of his right foot is probably meant to do this. The man in red above him opens his arms in a manner that suggests wonder and admiration rather than aversion, and he seems to hesitate, wondering whether he will present Christ with the object he has found to stand in for an orb. The thug on the left also seems frozen in mid-punch. Only the figure in modern (not Roman) armor acts aggressively, pulling down Christ's head by his hair as he lowers the crown of thorns over his head. The snarling spaniel...reinforces the element of threat. An arc of dark shadow surrounds Christ, as if to protect him from these half-hearted bullies.
These somewhat ambiguous gestures convey a more complex theological message than that usually encoded in depictions of Christ's torturers...The bulrush, which grows in muddy water, was both a symbol of humility and the plant associated with Moses, who was found amidst them as a baby and saved. Moses was therefore interpreted by Christian theologians as a prefiguration of Christ and thus a symbol of salvation. The men, who do not understand the deeper meaning of the bulrush, just as they do not recognize Christ, unwittingly tell educated believers that Christ is their savior. Van Dyck may have wanted to suggest that even these sinners are dimly aware that Christ is no ordinary man and thus can be saved from eternal damnation. The artist came from a devout family -- two sisters and his brother entered religious orders. He was certainly aware of the implications of every gesture and symbol in this moving painting.