One of the masterpieces of Romanesque art, this altar cross with some ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions is the vehicle for a complex iconographic program that is unrivaled in Christian art. On one side, the stylized trunk of a tree is superimposed on the Cross, and the terminals present scenes from the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the other side, Hebrew prophets, each holding a scroll with his own words, surround the central, allegorical medallion of the Lamb of God, apparently being pierced by the personification of Synagogue. Symbols of the Evangelists, authors of the Gospels, appear on the terminals: the lion of Mark on the left, the ox of Luke on the right, and the eagle of John on the top; the angel of Matthew once on the bottom is lost.
It has often been suggested that the cross comes from the English abbey at Bury Saint Edmunds in Suffolk. The richness of subjects and the overall intellectual character suggest intense theological dialogue. Prominent among the inscriptions are several strong invectives against Jews. Though it is impossible to know precisely who commissioned this piece and with what aims, the cross offers some indication of the anti-Jewish sentiment prevalent in England at this time. Indeed, by the end of the thirteenth century, Jews were expelled from the country.
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Title:The Cloisters Cross
Dimensions:Overall: 22 5/8 x 14 1/4in. (57.5 x 36.2cm) shaft: 12 3/8 x 1 11/16 in. (31.4 x 4.3cm) shaft-thickness: 1 1/4in. (3.2cm) top piece: 8 1/8in. (20.6cm) Cross piece: 9 3/4in. (24.8cm) Central medallion: 2 5/8in. (6.7cm) Terminal plaque: Mark: 2 1/4 x 2 5/16in. (5.7 x 5.9cm) Terminal plaque: Luke: 2 5/16 x 2 1/8in. (5.9 x 5.4cm) Terminal plaque: John: 2 5/16 x 2 1/4in. (5.9 x 5.7cm) Thickness, each: 1 1/2in. (3.8cm) to: 1 5/8in. (4.1cm)
Credit Line:The Cloisters Collection, 1963
Inscription: (central medallion (A), front, on scroll of Moses, center): SIC . ERIT . VITA . TVA . PENDENS / . ANE . N . CREDES . VITE . TVE (Thus your life will hang in the balance before [you], you will not be sure of your life [Deuteronomy 28:66])
(central medallion (A), front, on upper left scroll): SICVT . MOYSES . EX / ALTAVIT : S / ERPENTE[M] . [IN] DESERTO . ITA . E[XALTARI] : O[PORTET] : F[ILIVM] : h[OMINIS] . (Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus it is necessary to lift up the son of man [John 3:14])
(central medallion (A), front, on scroll of reclining figure, top center): QVARE . FVTVRV . ES . VELVT . VIR . VAG9 . φ A / TIS . QVI . NON . POTEST . SALVAR [should be QVARE FVTVRVS ES VELVT VIR VAGVS UT FORTIS QVI NON POTEST SALVARE] (Why will you be as if a wandering man, as a strong [man] who is not able to save? [Jeremiah 14:9])
(central medallion (A), front, on scroll of lower right figure): QVARE : RVBRV . E : IDVME / TV . TVV . φ VESTIMA . T . SIC . C . T. [should be QVARE ERGO RVBRVM EST INDVMENTVM TVVM ET VESTIMENTA TVA SICVT CALCANTIUM IN TORCULARI] (Why, then, is your robe red and your clothes like [those of one who] treads upon the wine press? [Isaiah 63:2])
(central medallion (A), back, on scroll of bottom center figure): […] GO : QVASI : AGN . M / […] ISVET9 . Q[superscript I]: PORTATV / […] S ADVICTI MAM . [should be EGO QVASI AGNVS MANSVETVS QVI PORTATVR AD VICTIMAM] (I [was] like a gentle lamb that is brought to the slaughter [Jeremiah 11:19])
(central medallion (A), back, on scroll of left standing figures that continues onto border around the medallion): MALEDICT9 OIS Q[superscript I] . P . I . L . [should be MALEDICTVS OMNIS QVI PENDET IN LIGNO, Galatians 3:13] (Each who is cursed will hang on a tree [Galatians 3:13])
(central medallion (A), back, on top border of medallion): […] IOhES : E / […] LEBA : MVLTV […] [should be IOhANNES; ET EGO FLEBAM MVLTVM, Revelation 5:4] (John, and I was weeping much [Revelation 5:4])
(central medallion (A), back, on scroll of top reclining figure): […] [ERADA]M9 . EV[M] . DE T[ER]RA . VIVENTIVM […] (May we erase him from the earth of the living [Jeremiah 11:19])
(central medallion (A), back, on scroll of right standing figure): : […] IDE : NE : FLEVERIS […] IGN9 . EST AGN9 / […] OCCIS9 . E : ACC […] E : VTVTE : ᶲ DIVIN : [should be VIDE NE FLEVERIS DIGNVS EST AGNVS QVI OCCISVS EST ACCIPERE VIRTVTEM ET DIVINITATEM] (Consider, may you not have cried [Revelation 5:5]; Worthy is the lamb that is killed [in order to] receive power and divinity [Revelation 5:12])
(right terminal plaque (B), front, on angel’s scroll): ): QVERITIS . NAZA / . IhM : RENVM . / CRVCFIX [should be QVAERITIS NAZARENVM IhESVM CRVCIFIXVM, Mark 16:6] (You all search for the crucified Jesus the Nazarene [Mark 16:6])
(right terminal plaque (B), back, along top): . S CS [image of an X symbol] / LVDAS . [SANCTVS LVCAS] (Saint Luke [the Evangelist])
(left terminal plaque (D), front, on scroll at base): : PLANGENT . EVM . QVA / SI . VNIGENITV. [should be ET PLANGENT EVM PLANCTV QUASI SUPER VNIGENITVM, Zachariah 12:10] (They will mourn him as if [he] were an only child [should be They will mourn him by wailing as if over an only child, Zachariah 12:10])
(left terminal plaque (D), back, along top): S C – S [should be SANCTVS] . mAR / CVS . (Saint Mark [the Evangelist])
(top piece (E), on scroll of left angel): VIRI : GALILEI Q[VI]D : STAIS . / ASPIETENTES [should be ASPICIENTES] : IN CELV : (Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven? [Acts 1:11])
(top piece (E), on scroll of right angel): SIC . VEN N3 Q ; MAD / MODV VIDIST [should be sic veniet quemadmodum vidistis] (Thus it will come just as you all have seen [Acts 1:11])
(top piece (E), on scroll of High Priest, left): NO / LI : SC[R]IBE[RE] : REX . IV[DAE]O[RV]M / S[ED] / Q[VI]A : DIX[IT] . REX . SV[M] . IVD[AEORVM] (Do not write, King of the Jews, but that he said, I am King of the Jews [John 19:21])
(top piece (E), front, on scroll of pilate, right): . Q[V]O[D] : SCRIPSI : / SCRIPSI : (That which I have written I have written [John 19:22])
(top piece (E), front, on cross title): [...] IC : [backwards C] . AZAPH[backwards C] . YC […] / […] . H[lowercase omega] / C : HX[lowercase omega][backwards C] […] / […] NICCO[backwards C] / . IKC : N […] / AREN9 . REX . / 9FeSSO […] / . Π Π [backwards R] AD[backwards E] – I / [symbol] AY . [symbol] / AD : DΔV / H [backwards R] [backwards K] S (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Confessors [John 19:19], too fragmentary for complete interpretation)
(top piece (E), back, along top): : IO . hES E [VAN] / G[E]LIST[A] (John the Evangelist)
(top piece (E), back, on bird’s scroll): VIDEBVNT : IN QVE[M] : / TRAN / S FIXERVNT : OS : N[ON] : 9MIN : E [should be COMMINUETIS] (They will look on whom they pierced [John 19:37], you all will not break a bone [John 19:36])
(top piece (E), left side): T[lowercase omega][Cyrillic capital Che]PATO[backwards C] (almighty)
(top piece (E), right side): A[backwards C] . TP[lowercase omega][capital Rho]O[Greek capital dotted lunate sigma] (man)
(top piece (E), top): . [Cyrillic capital Che]PICTO[Greek capital dotted lunate sigma][capital Rho]A[backwards C] . (Christ)
(cross stem, front, running down the front in two rows): . TERR / A : TREMIT : MORS : VICTA [EST] : GEMIT : SVRGENTE : SEPVLTO / VITA / CLVIT : SYNAGOGA : RVIT . mOLImINE : STVLT […] (The earth trembles, death is conquered and moans, life having risen [from] the tomb cleanses [and] the synagogue collapses [despite] foolish effort)
(cross stem, front, on bottom scroll labeling male figure): . ADAM . (Adam)
(cross stem, down left side): I[VDAEI] ChAM : RIDE[N] / T : DVM : NVDA[TIAM] : VIDET : PVDIBVNDA[M] : PARENTIS: (The Jews laugh while Ham looks at the shamefaced nakedness of [his] father [Noah]. [Genesis 9:22])
(cross stem, down right side): + IVD[A]EI / RISeRe : DEI : P[O]ENAM : mOR[TVI] […] (The Jews laughed at the punishment of the dead god)
(cross stem, back, Figure 1, on border behind head of figure): […] / D – D (David)
(cross stem, back, Figure 1, on scroll): FODERVNT : MAN9 : MEAS : φ : PE / DES : MEOS : DINVMAVERT : OIA : O : M [should be foderunt manus meas et pedes meos ; dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea] (They stabbed my hands and my feet; they enumerated all my bones [Psalms 21:17-18])
(cross stem, back, Figure 5, on scroll): OBLATVS / EST : QVIA : IPSE . / VOLVIT . (He is consecrated because he wished [for it] himself [Isaiah 53:7])
(cross stem, back, Figure 6, on border above figure): . MICh / EAS (Micah)
(cross stem, back, Figure 6, on scroll): : NVm [omega]D [should be NVMQVID]: DABO : PRIMO / GENITVM : MEVM . PRO . / SCELE / RE : MEO : DICIT : dOMINVS : (Can it be that the Lord says I will give my firstborn for my sin? [Micah 6:7])
(cross stem, back, Figure 9, on scroll): D / E : IhRLM [should be HIEROSOLYMA] : DABIT : VOCEM : SVAM : φ / MOVEBVNTOR / C[A]ELV[M] : φ : TERRA (From Jerusalem he will give his voice and sky and earth will be moved [Joel 3:16])
(cross stem, back, Figure 10, on border above figure): DANIEL . (Daniel)
(cross stem, back, Figure 10, on scroll): POST . eBD / OMODA / S : SEPTVA GI / N TA : DVAS : OC / CIDETVR : XPC : [should be post hebdomades sexaginta duas occidetur XPC] (After seventy-two [should be sixty-two] weeks, Christ will be slain [Daniel 9:26])
(cross stem, back, Figure 11, on scroll): FILI[I] : hOIS : ECCE : DATA : S / VNT . SVPER : TE : / VINCVL / A : ET : LIGABVNT : TE : (Behold, Son of Man, the chains were dedicated [to be put] upon you and they will bind you [Ezekiel 3:25])
(cross stem, back, Figure 12, on border above figure): MAThE9 . [should be MAThEVS] (Matthew)
(cross stem, back, Figure 12, on scroll): SIC . FVIT . IO / NAS . I VENTRE T: / DIEB[superscript 9] . φ T[superscript I]B[superscript 9] : NOCTIB[superscript 9] . ITA . ERIT . FV […] [should be sicut fuit Ionas in ventre tribus diebus et tribus noctibus ita erit filius] (Just as Jonas was in the stomach [of the whale for] three days and three nights so will the son be [Matthew 12:40])
(on crossbar, back, Figure 14, on scroll): AFFLIX […] E : ET : NON […] / M : T / E . […] P […] VLTRA DI […] [should be afflixi te et non affligam te ultra dicit dominus] (I have afflicted you [but] the Lord says I will not afflict you more [Nahum 1:12])
(on crossbar, back, Figure 16, on scroll): : CONSVRG φ : hO : DE ISR[AE]L φ ERIT . SEPVLCRVM . EIVS : G / LORIOSVM : [should be consurget homo de Israel et erit sepulcrum eius gloriosum] (A man will arise from Israel and his tomb will be glorious [Numbers 24:17])
(on crossbar, back, Figure 17, on scroll): SI : AFFLIGET . HOMO […] LA / VOS . / CONFIG […] [should be si affliget homo deum quia vos configitis me] (If man will afflict God, because you all strike down me [Malachi 3:8])
(on crossbar, back, Figure 18, on scroll): AMOS : VENDIDER[I]T . ARG[E]N[T]O : IVSTV[M] : (Amos; he will have sold the just [one for] silver [Amos 2:6])
(on crossbar, back, Figure 19, above figure): IOB . (Job)
(on crossbar, back, Figure 19, on scroll): Q – D : REDE[M]PTOR . M – S . VIV[IT] . φ I[N] CA […] / MEA / VIDEBO : D[EU]M : SALVATORE : MEV[M] : [should be scio quod redemptor meus vivit et in carne mea videbo deum salvatore meum] (I know that my redeemer lives and [yet] I in my flesh will see my God by way of the savior [Christ] [Job 19:25-26])
Ante Topic-Mimara, Zurich (sold 1963)
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