The Crucifixion
 Christus Triumphans to Christus Patiens

  There is a widely held view that the move away from images of the triumphant Christ to those of the suffering Christ was entirely inspired by Byzantine art, and was brought back to Italy by the Franciscans  as a result of the crusades. I want to the explore this change  in detail here, and consider whether this view is somewhat simplistic.
  Let's begin by looking at examples of both types of image and exploring the differences. 

Crucifix of Mastro Guglielmo, Sarzana Cathedral, 1138

Crucifix by Cimabue, Santa Croce, Florence c1287-88
(Before flood damage)


    So, Triumphans: Christ is alive, head upright, eyes open, no sign of suffering. Patiens: the dead Christ, eyes closed, body slumped and twisted, an almost transparent loin cloth, clear signs of suffering. 

  So where did the inspiration for the new image come from?

  Judith Kapferer* says that ‘This model of Christ had first a Byzantine and then a Franciscan origin.’
  Anne Derbes in Picturing the Passion in in late medieval Italy is quite clear on this too. She tells us that one result of the crusades was the influx of Byzantine art – and artists – into Italy. 

   On crucifixes and crucifixion scenes, Derbes focuses on the Santa Croce crucifix by Cimabue above, sadly very badly damaged in the floods of 1966. Luckily, good images of what it looked like before the damage are available. Derbes' link with Byzantine images is the semi-transparent loincloth, though she doesn’t provide any early Byzantine images for comparison.  Let’s do that now. 
    One problem is that crucifixion images are few and far between in Byzantine art.  The focus in Byzantine worship and iconography was the resurrection, the anastasis of the triumphant Christ, Christ Pantocrator, not the humiliated, suffering Christ of the Crucifixion. Robin Margaret Jenson, in The
Earliest Christian Art, suggests that  the art of the ruling classes, represented by the art found in churches in Constantinople, was sober, dignified; alternative, more mystical and emotional images were found elsewhere, particularly in monasteries.  Here's an image that could have been a model for Cimabue, though he never would have seen it. It is in the Dark Church, Goreme, Cappadocia, and dates from the 11th century.

Some more Byzantine images:

Mid 10th century Ivory, from Constantinople. 
Metropolitan Museum, New York

Late 12th century Icon, St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai.

Daphni Monastery, Greece. Early 12th century mosaic

Hosios Loukas Monastery, Greece, 11th century mosaic

  Let's look again at some further examples of Italian Christus triumphans crucifxes:

Margarito DArezzo, Pieve Santa Maria, Arrezo. 

Cross of San Damiano: Basilica of Santa Chiara, Assisi. c 1100.
(The cross that, according to legend, spoke to Saint Francis.)

And Christus Patiens, from the late thirteenth century onwards: 

Cimabue: San Domenico, Arezzo. 1268-1271

Bonaventura Berlinghieri: Uffizi, Florence
1260 - 1270

  These examples demonstrate that that the change didn't entirely convince everyone in Italy. The Margarito crucifix has a similar date to the Cimabue, and the two pieces are less than half a mile from each other. Margarito must have known the Cimabue, but the style wasn't for him, or the commissioners of his crucifix. Note too the difference in the loincloth between the two works by Cimabue. It could be that for the Dominicans of Arezzo, transparency was a step too far, though it was clearly what the Franciscans of Florence wanted. 
  So, all cut and dried then. The Franciscans that went with the crusaders in the twelfth century sought out the mystical, emotional side of Byzantine art, perhaps from monasteries, and introduced the idea to Italy where it flourished from the mid thirteenth century onwards. 

  If only life was that simple. 

*Images of Power and the Power of Images: Control, Ownership, and the Public Space  2012

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