Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The Twelfth Station, Jesus Dies On the Cross

Piero della Francesca, The Crucifixion
 From the Polyptych of Saint Augustine
Italian, c.1460
New York, Frick Collection

The subject of the Crucifixion of Jesus is a huge one and there are several ways in which an iconographic study of the subject can be approached.  In an essay in 2013 I looked at it in terms of narrative and devotional images The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery – The Crucifixion.  This year I am going to focus, for the most part, on one point in time, the death of Jesus. 

This means that, with a few exceptions, I will be looking only at images that show Jesus at the point of death, or just after having died.  All of the Evangelists record that, just before He died, Jesus uttered a loud cry, though they don’t agree on the exact words spoken.  Matthew and Mark agree that He cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15: 34).  Luke records “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23: 46) and John “It is finished” (John 19: 30). 

The very earliest images of the Crucifixion, however, approach the subject in a way that is symbolic, rather than naturalistic.
The Crucifixion and Suicide of Judas
From an Ivory Casket
Late Roman, 420-430
London, British Museum

Wood Carving, The Crucifixion
Late Roman, 430-432
Rome, Church of Santa Sabina, Entrance Door

The Crucifixion
From the Rabbula Gospels
Syrian (Beth Zagba), 586
Florence, Bibliotheca Medicea-Laurenziana
MS. Plut. I.  56, fol. 12v-13r

The Jesus in these works is not dead, but very much alive.  He is open-eyed and triumphant over death.  This holds true from the fifth century, when the Crucifixion first appears, till the end of the eleventh century.  

The Crucifixion
From the Sacramentary of Gellone
Carolingian, 775-800
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 12048, fol. 143v

The Crucifixion
From the Sacramentary of Drogo
Carolingian (Metz), ca.850
Paris, Bibliothesque nationale de France
 MS Latin 9428, fol. 43v

The Crucifixion
From the Gospels of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c. 1000
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS BSB Clm 4453, fol. 250v 

The Crucifixion
From the Uta Codex
German (Reichenau), 11th Century
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS BSB Clm 13601, fol. 3v
In this image Christ appears as both priest and king.  He is crowned as a king and wears the stole of a priest.

The Crucifixion
From the Book of Pericopes of Emperor Henry II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS BSB Clm 4452, fol. 107v

It is toward the beginning of the twelfth century that a change begins and Jesus appears dead for the first time.  His body slumps to one side; His eyes are closed.  This is the image type that would develop into the dead or dying Jesus that we probably think of when we hear the words “Jesus Dies on the Cross”.

The Crucifixion
Italian, 1130s
Rome, Basilica of San Clemente, Detail of Apse Mosaic

The Crucifixion
From a Miniatures of the Life of Christ
French (Corbie), 1170-1180
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 44, fol. 9v

Hainricus, The Crucifixion
From a Gradual, Sequentiary, Sacramentary
German (Swabia, Weingarten Abbey), 1220-1225
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 711, fol. 57v

From the twelfth century this image became ubiquitous and virtually unchanging whether seen in 

Manuscript Illumination 

Petrus de Raimbaucourt, The Crucifixion
 From a Missal
French (Amiens), 1323
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 40, fol. 62v

Atelier of the Master of the Parement of Narbonne, The Crucifixion
from the Tres belles heures de Notre Dame de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c.1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS NAL 3093, fol. 209r
Below the framed image of the Crucifixion is the scene of Jesus being nailed to the cross.

Workshop of the Master of the Coronation of the Virgin, The Crucifixion
From a Book of Hours
French (Nantes), 1402
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 515, fol. 125r

The Limbourg Brothers, The Crucifixion
From the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry
Flemish, c. 1405-1409
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters Collection
Accession # 1954 (54.1.1), fol. 142r

The Crucifixion
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H 5, fol. 79r

or in Wall Painting

Giotto, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel 

Masolino da Panicale, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1428-1430
Rome, Basilica of San Clemente

or in Panel Painting   

Duccio, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Pietro Lorenzetti, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1340-1350
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andrea di Bartolo, The Crucifixion
Italian, c.1410-1428
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jan van Eyck, The Crucifixion
Left panel of a diptych
Flemish, c. 1440-1445
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andrea Mantegna, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1456-1459
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Pietro Perugino, The Crucifixion
Central Panel of Galitzin Triptych
Italian, c. 1481-1485
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Hans Baldung Grien, Crucifixion
German, 1512
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Maerten van Heemskerck, The Crucifixion Triptych with Donors
Belgian, c. 1545-1560
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Tintoretto, The Crucifixion
Italian, 1565
Venice, Scuola Grande di San Rocco

or in Sculpture  
The Crucifixion, Ivory and copper gilt Pax
South German, c.1360-1370
New York, Metropolitan Museum,  Cloisters Collection
A pax was a small object of precious materials that, during the Middle Ages, was passed from hand to hand among the faithful at Mass in lieu of receiving Holy Communion.

Donatello, The Crucifixion
Italian, c.1465
Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Luca della Robbia, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1465
Impruneta, Church of Santa Maria

The Crucifixion
Central panel, Altar of the Cross
Flemish, c. 1525-1535
Antwerp, Church of the Assumption

and whether imagined as broad, heavily populated narrative scenes, 

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The Crucifixion
Belgian, 1617
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Costantino Brumidi, The Crucifixion
Italian-American, c. 1870-1880
New York, Church of the Holy Innocents

James Tissot, The Death of Jesus
From The Life of Christ
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

or in intimate devotional works 

Masaccio, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1426
Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

Masters of the Gold Scrolls, The Crucifixion
From a Book of Hours
Belgian (Bruges), c.1430-1440
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 25, fol. 14r

Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion Diptych
Belgian, c.1460
Philiadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Crucifixion
from a Book of Hours
Italian (Ferrara), c. 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 187, fol.104r

Francesco Granacci, The Crucifixion
Italian, c.1510
New York,  Metropolitan Museum of Art

or in those works that I call “hybrid” which, because of scale or for other reasons, lie somewhere between the most intimate devotional images and the full scale narrative works. 

Matthias Gruenwald, The Crucifixion
Central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece
German, c.1515
Colmar, Musée d'Unterlinden

Annibale Carracci, The Crucifixion with Saints
Italian, 1583
Bologna, Church of Santa Maria della Carità

Hendrick Terbrugghen, The Crucifixion
Dutch, c. 1624-1625
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bartolome Murillo, The Crucifixion
Spanish, c. 1675
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Filippo Luzi, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1680-1700
Rome, Church of the Madonna dei Monti
This is somewhat unusual as it combines a solid, sculpture of the Crucified Christ with painted figures of Mary and John.  

Francesco Conti, The Crucifixion
Italian, 1709
Florence, Church of San Lorenzo

The images, especially the devotional images, are tied together in several ways.  They may represent the solitary figure of the dead Christ, suspended on the cross,

Master of Petrarchs Triumphs, The Crucifixion
From the Hours of Claude Mole
French (Paris), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 356, fol. 63v

Diego Velazquez, The Crucifixion
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

but are most likely to include the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John, whom the Evangelist John places as close enough to the foot of the cross for Jesus to address them directly just before His death:
   “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”   Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

Quentin Massys, The Crucifixion
Central panel of a triptych
Belgian, c.1520
Antwerp, Museum Mayer van den Bergh

Also present in many images are small figures of the sun and moon, sometimes personified, on either side above the cross.1

The Crucifixion
From the Sacramentary of Charles the Bald
French, c. 870
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1141, fol. 6v

The Crucifixion
From a New Testament
Italian (Lombardy), 1195
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 12, fol. 74v

The Crucifixion
From a Psalter
English (London), c. 1225
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 25, fol. 2v

Also frequent are images of a skull or of skulls underneath or on the ground around the cross.2   The former are a reference to Christ’s kingship and triumph over the cosmic forces of day, night and time itself.  The latter are references to both the meaning in Aramaic of the place where Jesus was crucified, Golgotha or Place of the Skull, as well as to the old tradition that Adam was buried in that same location and that a seed planted in his mouth grew into the tree from whose wood the cross was fashioned. 3

The Crucifixion (ivory)
Byzantine, c. 950
New York, Metropolitan Museum

Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion
Right pane of the Diptych of Jeanne de France
Belgian, c. 1452-1470
Chantilly, MuséCondé
This picture has it all:  sun and moon and skull.

Andrea del Castagno, The Crucifixion with Saints Benedict and Romauld
Italian, c.1455
Florence, Church of Sant'Apollonia

Andrea Mantegna, Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1465-1470
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Giovanni Bellini, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1501-1503
Private Collection

Very frequently, especially in pictures made after the start of the Renaissance, which can be said to have begun in many ways around the year 1300, but certainly after naturalism began to be the dominant mode of artistic vision, the skies appear dark, or cloudy.  This is an obvious reference to the Synoptic Gospels, all of which mention that the skies were dark from noon till “in the afternoon”.4

Gerard David, The Crucifixion
Belgian, c.1515
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Simon Vouet, The Crucifixion
French, 1622
Genoa, Church of the Gesù

Franz Anton Maulbertsch, The Crucifixion
Austrian, 1758
Suemeg, Parish Church

Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Crucifixion
Danish, c. 1865-1878
Copenhagen, Fredericksborg Castle Chapel

James Tissot, Behold Thy Son
From The Life of Christ series
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

In recent times what might be called "visionary" images of the Crucifixion have appeared.

James Tissot, "Consummatum Est"
From The Life of Christ series
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Salvador Dali, The Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)
Spanish, 1954
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

However, it is from the tradition of the devotional images, more than the narrative images or mystical images, that the typical Twelfth Station is drawn.

Eric Gill, Jesus Dies Upon the Cross
English, 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral

© M. Duffy, 2016,  selected images updated 2024
 1.   Leesti, Elizabeth .  “Carolingian Crucifixion Iconography: An Elaboration of a Byzantine Theme”,   RACAR: revue d'art canadienne / Canadian Art Review, Association des universités d’art du Canada / Universities Art Association of Canada , Vol. 20, No. 1/2 (1993), pp. 3-15.

2. Zucker, Mark . “The Skull In Van Eyck's "Crucifixion": A Belated Tribute To Howard Davis”, Notes in the History of Art, The University of Chicago Press, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Spring 1998), pp. 1-6.  I must say that I was delighted to come upon this reference.  Not only was it interesting in itself, but it brought back very happy memories of Professor Davis, who was one of my first teachers in graduate school.  Indeed, the research paper I undertook for him concerned the identity of one of the bystanders in this very same painting.

3. For more on this legend see: Exaltation of the Holy Cross – Piero della Francesca at Arezzo

4. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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