Double-sided Crucifix with Crucifixion and Baptism of Christ
This is an elaborately decorated benediction cross made out of carved wood. Its small size and carved handle indicate that this is the hand held-cross. Such small-scale crosses are used in Greek Orthodox churches to bless the congregation after the service, and examples in carved wood (especially in boxwood), dating from the 17th century onward, are common in the treasuries of Mount Athos.1
This particular cross has the Christ-figure carved on a larger cross and layered in front of a wall, probably representing the city wall of Jerusalem. The carving of wooden crosses is traditionally practiced by Athonite monks, but in recent years the examples sold to pilgrims such as this one, are mainly carved by Romanian lay-workers hired by the monasteries.
At the top of the cross, there is the Latin inscription INRI, which stands for Jesus Nazarenzus Rex Iudei-Jesus (meaning Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).2 This crucifix portrayed Bas-relief Christ-figure on a four-armed Latin cross consists of an upright post and a single crosspiece. He is wearing a short loincloth, half naked.3 His face looks peaceful, his eyes are closed, indicating that he is dead. After Iconoclasm in Byzantium, there was a shift to represent the fully human death of Christ on the cross, including his vulnerable unclothed body and head slumped on one shoulder. His hands were nailed on a single crosspiece and his two feet were nailed side by side. The slanted S curve of Christ’s figure on a cross shows the influence of Byzantine images of the crucifixion in the post-Iconoclastic period.4 The four evangelist symbols carved into the nimbus. All of these characteristics show parallels to the boxwood carved crosses found on Mount Athos.5 The circular nimbus around the intersection of the cross-arms and the inclusion of the Latin inscription suggests that this cross was carved with Western European pilgrims in mind. At the bottom under his feet are the skull and cross bones, which refers to Golgotha, the “place of the skull,” where the crucifixion took place. Skull and crossbones under the feet of the crucified Christ symbolized the victory over death, which also allude to Adam. Christ was crucified on the gravesite of the first man, Adam, who brought sin and death into the world through his disobedience to God. The skull is a symbol of Adam’s grave.5
Ballion, Anna. “The Art of Carving of Mount Athos, 17th-early 18th centuries” Pemptousia, posted November 7, 2015 at http://pemptousia.com/2015/11/the-spread-of-the-art-of-the-capital-17th-early-18th-centuries/.
Karakatsanis, Athanasias. ed., Treasures of Mount Athos, exhibition catalogue (Thessaloniki: Museum of Byzantine Culture, 1997).
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective (14th Ed.) vol. 1 (New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 2013).
Schiller, Gertrud. Iconography of Christian art. Translated by Janet Seligman. (Greenwich, Conn., New York Graphic Society, 1972), vol. 2.
1Ballion, “The Art of Carving of Mount Athos, 17th-early 18th centuries.”
2“Crosses and Crucifixes Historical Study” (2016) at http://www.christianiconography.info/cross.html.
3Karakatsanis, Treasures of Mount Athos, 304 and online at http://www.elpenor.org/athos/.
4Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective (14th Ed.) v.1. (New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 2013).
5Schiller, Iconography of Christian art. vol. II, 130-32.