This Byzantine depiction of the Crucifixion emphasizes Christ's victory over death. Christ's body is shown limply attached to the cross, his arms bent at the elbows and his legs turned, pushing his hip slightly outward. His head falls forward against his left shoulder. The Virgin and Saint John the Baptist mourn his passing, and underneath the foot support, the three soldiers divide Christ's seamless garment.
These figures are frequently portrayed as witnesses to Christ's sacrifice for humankind. The presence of the bearded reclining man stabbed by the base of the cross, however, is unique among surviving Byzantine representations of the Crucifixion. Depicted as a defeated and subdued warrior, this figure personifies Hades, the Classical ruler of the underworld, the abode of the dead. In this case, the cross signifies both the weapon with which Christ's Crucifixion wins man's salvation and a victory standard. The impact of this message is brilliantly conveyed through the simplicity of the composition, which is marked by large areas of uncarved ivory underneath the architectural canopy. The resulting shallow space creates a dramatic stage for the figures, whose elongated bodies are articulated by the finely chiseled folds of their classically inspired drapery.
Inscription: Inscribed in Greek: [initials for] Jesus Christ; [initals for] Mother of God; [initials for] Saint John; The Division of the Cloak; The Cross Implanted in the Stomach of Hades
Edmond Bonnaffé, Paris; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (May 3–6, 1897, no. 246 to Bourgeois Frères(?)); Bourgeois Frères, Paris and Cologne; Baron Albert Oppenheim, Cologne(until d. 1904); J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York
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