Byzantine School – Crucifiction And Stories Of The Passion – 13th Century

Here an expression of suffering is heightened by distortion and simplification to the point of caricature. To the medieval churchman, however, so forcible an aid to realizing the agony on the cross was desirable for religious reasons. It was strikingly obvious, stark and emphatic even from a distance. It acted as a powerful stimulus to emotions of sympathy, gratitude and adoration. Its directly visible qualities at the same time gripped the attention with a more sensuous thrill, and drove home the religious message with the concentrated force of. organized design.

This visual appeal can be felt today, apart from any religious associations. Broad heavy lines, which are also strips of contrasting color, weave a tight but graceful arabesque of small repeated curves around the features, the locks of hair, the intricate garment-folds and the stiffly conventionalized muscles and ridges of the body. Within the cramping limits of the traditional crucifix, the artist has achieved a certain vigor in the zig-zag swerve of the body, and in the fluent tracery that winds over it, accented sharply by strong sudden contrasts of light and dark.

The smaller pictures are typically flat, with stiff postures and set, doleful expressions. Their varied compositions, how-ever, help decrease an otherwise monotonous symmetry. All the parts, including the central figure, made a brilliant display of contrasting colors (now badly faded) against the flat gold background. The latter, burnished and jewelled with oriental splendor, served to reflect the altar lights of some dim, small-windowed thirteenth century church. One should imagine this crucifix there, not detached from its setting and hung in a crowded museum.