Processional Cross, 12th–13th century
Ethiopia (Lasta region)
Bronze; H. 12 1/2 in. (31.6 cm)
Purchase, Tianaderrah Foundation, Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Noah–Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc. and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Ruddock Gifts, 2008 (2008.502)
In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, processional crosses were commissioned by individual patrons to be given to religious institutions as acts of devotion. Composed predominantly of bronze and cast by clerics using the lost-wax method, each of these crosses is unique. During liturgical processions and services, such venerated creations were affixed to tall staffs and held aloft to maximize their visual impact. In their formal interpretation of this motif, regional artists have emphasized its identification with the Tree of Life. In this example, the earliest in the Museum's collection from the Lasta region, the central cross is amplified by a multiplicity of outwardly projecting crosses that suggest organic luxuriance, creating the overall effect of a cross embedded in an intricate arrangement of alternating arched flourishes (though the perforations may have been introduced not only to heighten the intricacy of the silhouette but also to minimize the weight). The complex configuration relates this cross to a processional cross in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, but here the design is more elegantly attenuated and the execution is crisper and more sharply resolved.