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Corpus from a processional Cross

Origin / Date West France, c. 1100
Material copper alloy, gilt and silvered
Dimensions 125mm high
Availability Reserved

Description

Tips of fingers lost, some edges rubbed, e.g. tip of nose, else excellent condition. The patina of the later silvering, presumably applied to prevent any further corrosion, suggests it was done some time ago, probably in the 19th century. Old label in hollowed back, perhaps a price, in Sterling: “£ 219”.

Commentary

This delicately and carefully worked corpus from a processional cross seems directly related, in the sense of possible antecedents, to four of the most famous larger but still non-monumental corpi of the early Romanesque period around 1100: the ivory cross in the Museo de León from the last quarter of the 11th century, called the Carrizo Christ after the monastery it belonged to at a later date (Fig. 1); the ex-Stoclet collection copper alloy corpus, now British Museum 1965.0704.1, given to west France (Anjou) of the 1st quarter of the 12th century, and the related figure found near Soudan (Loire Atlantique) and now in Angers Musée des Beaux-Arts (MA VI-R 319), both widely considered among the most beautiful metal corpi to survive; and the “Helmstedter Kreuz” or “Werden” corpus, now in the treasury of St. Ludgerus Church in Essen-Werden, the largest bronze to survive (just over a metre high) and dated uncertainly to between 1060 and 1100

Loincloth

Besides the technique, rare in copper alloy figures, of fine incised striations on the hair (1), which is patterned in larger parallel strands from a central parting, the stylized beard pattern with forward-curling terminals, and the angle of the feet, with the downward thrust of the toes onto the rectangular suppedaneum, it is the organization of the loincloth that most aligns this corpus with the Carrizo figure, including the circle decoration of the edges and the cingulum (probably meant to hold real precious stones in the case of the ivory), the nested v-folds (only on the left thigh in this figure) and the flattened zig-zag folds of the overhanging cloth on the sides.

Generally speaking, a perizoneum with a knot on the right which is pulled under and over the belt on the left is both a widespread and early type. In Mosan work alone, for example, the Tongres ivory plaque of 1000 has it while Renier de Huy still uses it around 1120. Bloch (1992), who organizes the material of his comprehensive survey of metal corpi according to differences in perizoneum, calls his own grouping of this model, when used in combination with tubular hanging folds, the Trier type (III C) (2). More important, therefore, is the particular way this schema is applied and in the present case there is a particular triangular fold down the centre, giving Bloch’s type V B. However, what further distinguishes both this figure and the Carrizo Christ from the 15 figures in this grouping, including the British Museum ex-Stoclet figure, is firstly, that the triangular lappet is shorter, secondly that its right edge does not drop from the bottom of the knot but from this latter’s left side, and thirdly that this right edge is itself folded over itself leftwards to attempt to convey the correct topology of the fold. Only ex-Stoclet and the counterpart to this British Museum figure, that of Soudan (Bloch’s V B 1), taken as the oldest of this grouping, seem to show the folding over of the edge of cloth at the bottom of the triangle. A variant of this shorter triangular lappet is also found on the Crucifixion of the shrine commissioned by Abbot Bégon III of Conques, and still in situ, to house various relics sent by Pope Pascal II in 1100. Though no good reproduction of this figure is readily available to make a detailed comparison and its nose is missing, the indent of the beard line on the cheek, the outline of the chin and the forked beard are comparable to this figure. Another, very well-documented figure that has a very similar triangular lappet with the right edge of the cloth folded over like Carrizo is the “Helmstedter Kreuz” or “Werden” corpus, now in the treasury of St. Ludgerus Church in Essen-Werden, and it also has, like most figures from Bloch’s V B group, the relatively long, flattened tubular folds over the thighs. The greatest similarity of this corpus, however, lies in the treatment of the face, which will be discussed below. With respect to the fine pattern of straight bunched folds, especially those created between the thighs by the sideways swing of the legs, as also the way the cloth folds under and over the cingulum on the true left, the present figure seems closest to precisely the three figures associated with west or north France: Soudan, ex-Stoclet and the private collection figure in Belligné, believed to have come from Pontron Abbey (Bloch V B nos. 1, 2 and 7) (3).  As regards the type of small but complex knot, though seen, besides Carrizo, in the Bloch III C (Trier) type, including the French figures in this grouping (4), it perhaps not coincidental that it seems closest of all in size and shape to two of the figures just mentioned, namely Soudan and especially Belligné.

Body

Arguably an even more important characteristic than the triangular central fold is also the one in which this figure radically differs from the Carrizo Christ. Where this latter follows a Carolingian model of an open-eyed Christ, - stout, alive and standing upright on the suppedaneum, - as do so many of the Mosan and German examples, the figures taken as western French or English and mostly grouped by Bloch under type V (especially groups A and B), show a strikingly different posture: slender and elongated body type, a much more dramatic swing of the body and inclination of a narrower head, eyes closed to depict the moment of, or following, death. The stress points of the sagging body are shown at the joints: the wrists, where the hands stay horizontal while the arms descend; the elbows, bent; and the knees, bent forwards and sideways. At the same time, the head drops forwards and sideways. This was already the position of the earliest monumental corpus, that of Gero in Cologne, even if there the knees bend leftwards, as also in so many other German corpi following this tradition. A figure such as Metropolitan Museum 17-190-760 would also belong to this more dramatic grouping, even if its perizoneum assigns it to Bloch’s group I F 1.

Together, these two characteristics of the perizoneum and body position find a striking parallel in a group of Crucifixion images also datable and localizable to the Western France of the beginning of the 12th century, following the generation of Mss that still depict Christ alive and upright such as in the Psalter of Saint Germain des Prés (Bib Nat Ms lat. 11550)
: in a Missal from Saint-Pere de Chartres (now Troyes, Bib. Mun. Ms 894 - Cahn no 6), a Psalter from Angers (now Amiens, Bib. Mun. Ms L’escalopier 2 - Cahn no 8), as well as the Missal of Sainte-Radegonde, (Poitiers, Bib. Mun. Ms 40 - Cahn no 4) and a single leaf (Paris, Bib. Nat. Nouv. Acq. lat. Ms 2659), probably from Le Mans. Even closer is a Crucifixion on a folio presented by Les Enluminures, Catalogue 7 (1998, no 1.) as western French c. 1100-1125, which even has a similar elongated thorax and near identical twin strands of hair parallel across the shoulder. Also telling in this respect is the presence on this corpus of the horizontal indents running front to back in the strands of hair halfway on the left side that parallels the graphically depicted undulation in most of the manuscripts mentioned above. Again, though the loincloth of this manuscript Crucifixion has plain edging, both the mantles of Mary and John show the familiar circles within the lined hem of the cloaks. Other examples of the way manuscript traits are paralleled are the detailing of the rounded chin, the wavy line of the mouth, and the slight indent of the line of the beard on the cheek, reminiscent of the systematic drawing of this line in miniatures such as the scenes from Life of St Albinus (Bib Nat Ms Nouv. Acq. Lat. 1390 – Cahn no 9) from Angers, as well as the Last Supper in a Missal from Saint-Maur-des-Fossés near Paris (Bib Nat Ms lat. 12054 – Cahn no 84), both from around 1100 (though already used earlier, in e.g. the Glossed Psalter of c. 1050-75, British Library, Ms Cotton Tiberius C. VI). One could therefore argue that this small corpus, together with the Pope Pascal II Reliquary in Conques and Louvre OA 12185 (Bloch V A 4), also attributed to western France of the beginning of the 12th century, - and which shares various other characteristics despite the longer and larger perizoneum, such as the parting of the hair at the back, - is one of the closest surviving sculptural equivalents of the Crucifixions in French, English or Anglo-Norman Mss either side of 1100 (5).

Head type

Lastly, as with the central triangular fold discussed above, it is possible to isolate another characteristic within this general group all sharing this dramatic body position, namely the facial type. It is one marked not only by a strongly defined and large rounded brow, an almost aquiline nose, and very globular eyes closed to a thin wavy slit to mark the lids, but also, equally pronounced, high-placed and sharp-edged cheekbones. In addition, Hürkey already referred to the ‘narrow’ head shape of figures such as Soudan. Lastly, the hair is sleek, curving behind the ears, and the beard well-defined in stylized curls (6).

Though features such as globular eyes depicted closed occur separately across various periods and regions in the course of the 12th century, this particular combination of traits makes one wonder whether it is possible to associate it with a specific period, though given the variations in execution, not necessarily with a single location (7). Thus, within the corpi already referred to, at least three very clearly typify this facial model, all dated before or around 1100: British Museum ex-Stoclet, Metropolitan Museum 17-190-760, and especially the Helmstedter corpus. The similarity in conception extends also to the beard of the latter, projecting out with terminals curled forward, as in Carrizo and the present figure.
It is likely that other associated figures such as Angers MA VI-R 319, the figure now in Paray-le-Monial (Bloch V B 3) and especially the figure from a private collection in Belligné, also illustrate this facial model but it is not possible to tell on the basis of existing photographs. French figures that follow the same model but without the stylization of the curves of brow and nose, such as the Gent Bijloke Museum (Bloch V A 1), are generally dated towards the middle of the 12th century. A figure that is similar in size and facial conception (eyes and cheekbones), as well as treatment of feet and arms, but otherwise not comparable in loincloth or position, is also in Angers (Musée no. AM 23, Bloch III C 8), and dated to before 1150. For another figure of similar size and before 1150 but more Germanic conception see Cologne, Schnüttgen Museum H 105 (Bloch IV B 12), while a possibly Mosan variant is Victoria & Albert Museum 2091-1855 (Bloch V A 10). Interestingly, a well-known larger figure that is comparable in terms of striated hair treatment, beard curls, slender body type and beauty of perizoneum is a Swabian corpus in the Church at Amrichshausen/Künzelsau, dated by Bloch to c. 1130.

Conclusion

The exceptional quality of this work lies not only in the finely chiselled and engraved lines that give detail to the hair, for example, as well as the toes, but already in the modelling of the cast, with the v-folds showing variations in depth rather than being surface decoration, the ribs being delicately modelled and correctly positioned, and the working out of the back parts of the loincloth that might have protruded from behind the stem of the cross. All this maker it the antithesis of the more rigid and formulaically symmetrical castings of many such figures. The sophistication of the play of lines, some broad some very fine, is not tied to a specific period so much as a feature of all the best Romanesque works of the 12th century.

Early Plantagenet metal work is very rare outside of opus lemovicense. Over and above the corpi listed as Bloch V B, and closer than the applique apostles from the Vasselot collection now joined with the one already in the Louvre (8), usually dated to the second quarter of the 12th century, it is the surviving work from the chasse of Saint Babolin (9) of c. 1100 that most clearly shows the typical elements of flattened zig-zag-, tubular-, and v-folds, together with double-banded circle decoration. More specifically, both surviving Christ figures also show identical use of incised parallel lines on the reverse of the decorated hem of the zig-zag folds and the very stylized beard curls, while the applique figure also has the parting of the hair at the back.

In conclusion, given that there are only two (10) early (western or northern) French surviving monumental wooden figures that show a similar organization of the perizoneum, neither of which is complete, - the torso in Saint Marcel (Eure), which has the most elaborate carving of this triangular central fold, and a figure already associated by Hürkey (no 160) with the above groups, once on loan to the Sint Catherijnenconvent museum Utrecht, now in a private collection in the Netherlands, - this figure gains its importance as a document of what either might have looked like.

 

Literature

Thoby, Paul, Le Crucifix des Origines au Concile de Trente, Nantes, 1959.
Hürkey, Edgar, Das Bild des Gekreuzigten im Mittelalter. Untersuchungen zu Gruppierung, Entwicklung und Verbreitung anhand der Gewandmotive, Worms, 1983.
Bloch, Peter, Romanische Bronzerkruzifixe, Berlin, 1992.
Cahn, Walter, Romanesque Manuscripts. The Twelfth Century (2 vols.), London, 1996.

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Notes
1. It is more common on copper enamelled work. Compare, for example, the Christ and apostles of the urna of Saint Dominic of Silos (Burgos, Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos), which also has the very characteristic ex-Stoclet figure hairstyle, and may have been modelled on the largely lost urna of Ulger (d. 1148), bishop of Angers.
2. One could describe this important, likely Rheno-mosan type, which includes some of the best French corpi (Louvre OA 4084 ex Boy collection (Bloch III C 11) and Hamburg Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe 1959-115 (Bloch C III 10, his book’s front cover image)), as one in which the whole front of the perizoneum itself forms a more or less triangular ‘lappet’ between knot on right and overhang on left.
3. There is one other well-known piece that exhibits this particular form of the frontal fold, albeit with an extra decorative flourish of the fabric on the other side of the knot. Louvre OA 2593 is a morse ivory corpus that
carries the inscription “nate maris stelle veniam concede Sibille”. For this and other reasons it was associated by Goldschmidt with the Sybille who married Dietrich of Flanders in 1139, after her first marriage to the Norman William Clito was annulled in 1124 at the request of this latter’s uncle, Henry I of England. Anton von Euw (1972) attributed it to a St Omer or Liege workshop of 1130-50. It is interesting that this Sybille was probably the daughter of Fulk of Anjou and accompanied her father to the Holy Land, where he became King of Jerusalem in 1131. She returned to the Holy Land in 1157 with Dietrich but did not go home with him again, having entered the Lazarus cloister in Bethany where she died in 1163. The fact that the inscription pleads for mercy, implying guilt, together with the detail of the perizoneum, suggests the following hypothesis: could the ivory have been made from an angevin model as early as 1124 following the annulment of her first marriage on the grounds of consanguinity?
4. Besides those listed in note 1, a figure in Lille (Musée des Beaux Arts A77) (Bloch III C 6) is worthy of mention.
5. If one were to hypothetically assume the work was English, - not impossible given the close connections between the two regions, - and compare it to the more abundantly surviving early English Mss, details such as the simple but precise v-folds, the beard curls, the decorative circles and so on, still appear closer to 11th c. Mss, such as the Evangeliary in Cambridge, Pembroke Ms 302, than to the more elaborate mid 12th century style of, say, the Winchester Psalter. After all, the body position of the dead Christ, with legs bent sideways and arms upwards, but also this type of perizoneum, are already present in the third quarter of the 11th century (e.g. the Crucifixion in British Library, Ms Cotton Tiberius C. VI). This same “Tiberius Psalter” also shows how prevalent the style with flattened tubular folds, triangular gathering of drapery, simple nested v-folds, and circle decoration was at the time of the Conquest. Though later work such as that of the Alexis master in the St Alban’s Psalter from the 1120s on, now in the Basilica of St. Godehard in Hildesheim, seems close in terms of the particular facial profile discussed below, one could also point to the strongest manuscript parallels of all, namely with the famous Crucifixion on f. 52 of the Arundel Psalter (British Library, Arundel MS 60) (Fig. 2), whose date is placed by some to c. 1073 and others either side of 1100, which this corpus resembles in terms of the globular treatment of the closed eyes, the body type and position and angular and asymmetrical treatment of the folds of the perizoneum, and the type of belt and knot. Lastly, the hair type is also very close to the “Lundo” corpus (Copenhagen, National Museet D 894), which is taken as Anglo-Saxon or English from the 2nd half of the 11th. Given the straighter and more symmetrical treatment of the perhaps still Anglo-Saxon corpi (Tiberius C Vi, Arundel 60 f. 13r, and Lundo) compared to the treatment of this corpus, Pope Pascal II Reliquary, and Arundel 60 f. 52, a date nearer 1100 or 1110 seems more plausible for this latter group. 
6. In its stark yet strong and moving simplicity it seems to stand in relation to later figures as archaic Greek Kouroi do to sculpture of the classical period following it.
7. For example, the figures ascribed to the hand or workshop of Roger of Helmarshausen of 1100-1110, show a very similar treatment of closed eyes, striated hair with fine markings, and beard strands with small projecting terminals (Cf. Dortmund, Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte nr. B 165; Frankfurt, Kunstgewerbe Museum Nr. 4870; St Louis Art Museum, no. 73:49.), but without the other facial details and a very different perizoneum.
8. The copper alloy corpus owned by Vasselot (ex Eugène Piot and Victor Martin le Roy collections) sold Christies’s November 2011 lot 24 is another early example ascribed to West France but dated to the 2nd quarter of the 12th century. It has a similar decorative scheme to the present one of punched circles within double bands, similar parting of the hair at the back and the strongly curved brow and nose line but is less delicate in both proportion and execution.
9. Châsse de Saint Babolin (Founder of the abbey of Saint-Maur des Fossés) now in the Church at Le Coudray-Saint-Germer (Oise).
10. If one believes that the corpus in situ in the church of Vänge Gotland should be dated to the first half of the 12th century and follows an English model it would also give some idea of this north west European type. The closest northern Spanish equivalent is probably the ‘Crist de Cubells’ in the MNAC.

Provenance

Private collection, France.

Literature

Thoby, Paul, Le Crucifix des Origines au Concile de Trente, Nantes, 1959.
Hürkey, Edgar, Das Bild des Gekreuzigten im Mittelalter. Untersuchungen zu Gruppierung, Entwicklung und Verbreitung anhand der Gewandmotive, Worms, 1983.
Bloch, Peter, Romanische Bronzerkruzifixe, Berlin, 1992.
Cahn, Walter, Romanesque Manuscripts. The Twelfth Century (2 vols.), London, 1996.

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