Passion and Art
Cross and Crucifix: Periods/Forms
Cross and Crucifix: Non-English Sources
The Art and Image of the Cross brings together much of the reseach on the subject found in diverse sources. For a partial list of sources, see the Bibliography.The column at left organizes a portion of the resources by topic.There is extensive literature available on the cross, crucifix and the Passion.
Increasingly, the internet has become a worthy resource. Museum websites, postings on Flickr and stand alone web pages provide ready access to well known and unusual crosses. J. Richard Stracke, an English professor at Augusta State University, has an excellent presentation of many well-known works. His Christian Iconography Crucifixion page pictorially traces the basic development from early Christianity through the 20th century.
These books have been particularly helpful: Jane Dillenberger's Style and Content in Christian Art (1986) and Helen De Borchgrave's A Journey into Christian Art (2000). For a more specific introduction to the way the passion and Christ have been treated through the years, see Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985) and Richard Harries, The Passion in Art (2005). Guides on Christian art include JCJ Metford, Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend(1983); Peter Murray and Linda Murray, The Oxford Companion to Christian Art and Architecture (1998), and Gertrude Grace Sill, A Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art (1996).
Several recent works are worth noting. Oleg Zastrow's Crosses and Crucifixes: Treasures from the 8th to the 19th Century (2009) is a visually stunning work. The exhibit catalog, Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (2007) is an excellent introduction to early Christian iconography and objects. Getty's The Guide to Imagery Series provide wonderful treatments of Christian iconography, especiallly as related to art. Much has been written on High Irish Crosses. A National Museum of Ireland exhibit catalog of the life sized replicas that were cast about 100 years ago provides an additional twist to these scriptural crosses. Unfortunately, the wonderful cross exhibit at Dumbarton Oaks, Cross References (March 26 - July 31, 2011), did not yield a catalog.
A few scholarly works present important insights between theology and images. Hans Belting and David Freedberg provide interpetations from a historical perspective. Works by Constantine Cavarnos, Michel Quenot, Leonid Ouspensky, and Vladimir Lossky cover the views of the Eastern church. Joseph Koerner's The Reformation of the Image and his article in Iconoclash cover Protestant, especially Lutheran, views. Richard Viladesau, a theology professor at Fordham, provides a thorough historical perspective in his two volumes on the crucifixion: The Beauty of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts from the Catacombs to the Eve of the Renaissance and The Triumph of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation. Often, the most rewarding books on the subject are those that focus on a particular period or type of cross, like John A. Cotsonis, Byzantine Figural Processional Crosses and Colum Hourihane, The Processional Cross in Late Medieval England: The Dallye Cross.
More difficult for readers without an academic affiliation, access to various journal databases provides additional critical information. Some of these resources can be accessed through public libraries and by interlibrary loan.
During the 19th century, a few wealthy individuals in America began collecting religious artifacts from the Old World. Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), an Epsicopalian and founder of the Boston museum after her name, became the first to obtain a number of Medieval and Renaissance crosses and crucifixes. She is considered the best educated collector of her era. Her collection represents the unusual as well as the beautiful. Little noticed over the years, these pieces are featured in a 2001 catalog, The Art of the Cross: Medieval and Renaissance Piety.
Gardner competed with J. P. Morgan, a far wealthier collector. His collection was donated to the Metropolitan Museum and featured a number of fine crosses and crucifixes. The museum has produced many outstanding catalogs including the 1994 publication of The Cloisters Cross; Its Art and Meaning, a study of the carved walrus ivory cross from 1000-1400, and its three separate shows on Byzantium.
Other American museums also acquired Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic crosses and crucifixes for their collections, including Newark, Cleveland, Dumbarton Oaks, Walters, Philadelphia, National Gallery of Art, and St. Louis.
As art is the product of the times and an adaptation of historical forms, some of the most striking images today are the creations of 20th century artists, usually for secular reasons. A number of powerful images are found in Cruciformed: Images of the Cross since 1980 Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, September 6-November 3, 1991. The catalog of The Body of the Cross (1993) at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts explores images of the suffering Christ as represented by Picasso and other artists. Separate from these catalogs, powerful interpretations of the crucifixion in the 20th century were made by Jewish artists: Chagall, The White Crucifixion; Rohtko, The Rothko Chapel; and Newman, Stations of the Cross.
Cross Collectors, Books on the Cross, and Displays
During the past hundred years, most authors of cross books were cross collectors and were either clergymen or their spouses. These include William Wood Seymour, Cross in Tradition, History and Art (1898). Madeline Miller, My Hobby of the Cross (1939) and A Treasury of the Cross (1956); and George Benson, Cross, Its History and Symbolism (a 1976 reprint from the 1934 original).
Seymour bridges the studies that culminated in the early modern Catholic period and the historical writings in the 19th century. Following the Council of Trent, a number of Church scholars, such as Justin Lipsius (1547-1606) and Jacob Gretser (1562-1625), traced the development of the cross in history. Such writing justifying sacred images stopped around the end of the 17th century, having established the principles that would last into the modern era.(1)
Two works from the Sixties are very good. Perhaps the best overview is by the Anglican liturgical scholar, Cyril E. Pocknee, Cross and Crucifix: In Christian Worship and Devotion (1962). The second work is beautifully illustrated by the Canadian artist Norman Laliberte. He collaborated with Edward N. West to produce The History of the Cross (1960), a work that touches on most of the critical developments of the cross.
Several collectors have created museums for their collections. One is the Rainbow Hogan Museum of the Cross, Wickenberg, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. The owner, Lynda Jessen Gettig, wrote a book featuring the collection, The History of the Cross in Religious and Political Symbolism (1989).
Another collection is the Carl Williams Cross Museum at the Cumberland Inn, Williamsburg, KY, close to Cinncinati. Dr. Robert O. Williams, a Baptist minister, donated his collection of over 7000 crosses in memory of his son to Cumberland College. A former Air Force chaplain, Williams reported his first cross as a small cross that he wore in a lapel on his uniform. The site lists his collection of books on the cross.
Ernie Reda, the holder of the Guinness Media Inc. world's largest cross collection, died at the age of 84 on February 10, 2007. The San Jose, California, man had collected around 14,000 crosses, thousands of religious objects and over 40,000 religious cards. His dream to establish a Cross of Christianity museum in the area is continued by his family. He grew up Catholic in Kentucky. His mother gave him his first cross, a crucifix.
In Europe, one of the most noteworthy collectors in the 20th century is Leopold Leo Kollisch (1910-1997), a Hungarian who owned a shipping firm in Rotterdam. From 1950 to 1970, he obtained many unique crosses and crucifixes from flea markets in Italy, France, and Spain . Sothebys auctioned The Kolisch Collection of Crosses and Crucifixes in 1999 and 2000. The two auction catalogs provide a fascinating tour of folk and liturgical pieces from the 16th through the 19th century.
Kollisch wrote in 1953 that he collected crosses for the following reasons:
As a small boy I was often impressed by the crucifix. In my native country of Hungary, there were crucifixes along the main roads, at the edge of the forest, even in small villages and hamlets; roughly carved images of primitive devotion...Because of political confusion, misleading propaganda aimed at broad masses of people in many countries, man is drifting away from good; a single, often weather-worn crucifix somewhere along the road in our day will sometimes perform more missionary work than legions of priests or preachers. Let us openly admit that in the most difficult times of our lives, the only secure point of hope for the future and resignation to our present fate, is granted us through a crucifix. Such confrontations with the cross, with a Corpus Christi, were the reason, and later inspiration behind collecting crucifixes.(2)
At the close of 20th century, Kelly Klein produced a book called Cross, featuring images of the cross in modern photography. She captures the fascination that persists with the image of the cross as a Christian and universal form:
I chose this subject simply because I love crosses. I have collected them for years and have always worn one around my neck. I first noticed the cross in church, as a child...While I have always found it compelling that this simple shape is such a powerful sign for so many cultures, religions, and races, it was surprising to discover that the cross has a versatile, even playful, quality, too. We see the cross in so many ordinary places: in the human body when the arms are outstretched; in the human face, with the eyes forming the horizontal line, and the nose and mouth forming the vertical line; in the shape of an airplane; on street signs; and in countless other ways. (3)The images range from the mundane to the profound. The photographs are a reminder of the point of view of early Christians, where the sign of the cross is found everywhere.