Cross in the style of Spanish The Catholic Monarchs
Spain, late 15th century
Height: 57 cm, Width: 43 cm
This crucifix, possibly part of a larger altarpiece ensemble, dates from the late fifteenth century, during the time of The Catholic Monarchs. Crafted of cast bronze, it features the figure of Christ in high relief, with fine engraved and punched details. The highlight of the structure of the cross is the crest of leaves that encircles the perimeter of all four arms, a typical Gothic element that, as in this piece, was often used to outline the entire silhouette of an object. The crest is a repetition of vegetal motifs, which would have been a part of the same mold as the cross or as separate pieces to be attached later. In the case of our piece, the crest was cast with the cross, creating greater overall structural integrity. The cross itself is decorated with elements that have been chased and engraved. By the fifteenth century, engraving was becoming a very popular decorative technique, following the invention of the modern engraver’s chisel. This new tool allowed for more elaborate and finer decorations, often taking on the appearance of drawings in metal. Etching was sometimes used in combination with the engraver’s chisel to achieve more minute details, as in this piece. The engraving, by being more superficial, has been largely lost, but the chiseled plane remains intact, preserving the general outlines of the decorative program. We can still make out the lines of the vegetal motifs, the circles on the ends of the arms of the cross, and the cross within the central quadrant of the cross. Another defining characteristic of Gothic metalwork is the profusion of sculptures in the round and in high relief, which were used to great advantage when rendering human figures. However, these figures were often generic, as they were mainly manufactured by casting. The use of casting was actually quite common during the Gothic period, as it was essential in the mass productions of the figural and architectural elements that proliferated metalwork from the fourteenth century onward.
In the figure of Christ can be seen a perfect example of the late Gothic style, exhibiting an obvious concern for the naturalistic rendering of emotional expressions. In Gothic metalwork there is a growing and ever-evolving preoccupation with naturalism, both in its narrative and compositional elements. Sculptors were concerned with creating works of art that could be easily interpreted by the faithful. Unlike repetitive and conventional models of the Romanesque period, these figures clearly exemplify the careful studying and observation of nature. These formal developments are particularly noticeable in depictions of the crucifixion, since it is a common theme with a very long history that will be known to all artists. Thus, the anatomical modeling in such pieces is better than in other figural representations of the period. The decision of how to best depict the stress of physical suffering as more or less dramatic varied from artist to artist, but all show a clear understanding of anatomy and the human form.
The form of the cross is still based on Gothic models from the Western Mediterranean, with arms terminating in fleurs de lys and different quadrants that are decorated with finials in the forms of acorns. This example also features a Christ figure that is crucified with four nails as opposed to three.
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