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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 three of the most famous non-monumental corpi of the early Romanesque period around 1100: the ivory cross in the Museo de Leon from the last quarter of the 11th century, called the Carrizo Christ after the monastery it belonged to at a later date; 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 widely considered the most beautiful metal corpus 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.

Besides the technique, rare in copper alloy figures, of fine incised striations on the hair, which is patterned in larger parallel strands from a central parting, the similar 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 and decoration of the loincloth that most aligns this corpus with the Carrizo figure, already seen in the circle pattern of the edges and belt (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 according to loincloth, calls his own grouping of this model, when used in combination with tubular hanging folds, the Trier type (III C) (1). 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 fifteen 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 found near Soudan and now in Angers Musée des Beaux-Arts (MA VI-R 319) (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, but no good image of this figure exists to make a meaningful comparison. The opposite is the case for a very well-documented figure that has a very similar triangular lappet with the right edge of the cloth folded over like Carrizo. This “Helmstedter Kreuz” or “Werden” corpus, now in the treasury of St. Ludgerus Church in Essen-Werden, 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 latter, however, lies in the treatment of the face, which will be discussed below. With respect to the fine pattern of straight bunched folds created between the thighs by the sideways swing of the legs, the present figure is closest to precisely the three figures associated with the Loire-Atlantique: Soudan, ex-Stoclet and the private collection figure in Belligné, ex Pontron Abbey (Bloch V B nos 1, 2 and 7).

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, a trait perhaps emblematic of differences between Spanish and French corpi generally. 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: 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. One could argue that this small corpus, together with Louvre OA 12185 (Bloch V A 4) also attributed to western France of the beginning of the 12th century, - and which shares various 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 this group of Mss (2).

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 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, the hair is sleek, curving behind the ears, and the beard well-defined in stylized curls (3).

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 (4). 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 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 (Musee nr. 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.

Given the absolute rarity of early French metal work (besides the corpi of V B one could name the applique apostles from the Vasselot collection now joined with the one already in the Louvre (5)), and given that there are only two (6) 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.

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Notes
1. 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.
2. 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, are still 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. Clearly close also in terms of the particular facial profile discussed below is work such as that of the Alexis master in the St Alban’s Psalter from the 1120s on, now in Hildesheim.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.

Provenance

Private collection, Paris.

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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