Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Cloisters Cross

ca. 1150–60
Walrus ivory
Overall: 22 5/8 x 14 1/4in. (57.5 x 36.2cm) shaft: 12 3/8 x 1 11/16in. (31.4 x 4.3cm) shaft-thickness: 1 1/4in. (3.2cm) top piece: 8 1/8in. (20.6cm) Cross piece: 9 3/4in. (24.8cm) Central medallion: 2 5/8in. (6.7cm) Terminal plaque: Mark: 2 1/4 x 2 5/16in. (5.7 x 5.9cm) Terminal plaque: Luke: 2 5/16 x 2 1/8in. (5.9 x 5.4cm) Terminal plaque: John: 2 5/16 x 2 1/4in. (5.9 x 5.7cm) Thickness, each: 1 1/2in. (3.8cm) to: 1 5/8in. (4.1cm)
Credit Line:
The Cloisters Collection, 1963
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 14
One of the masterpieces of Romanesque art, this altar cross with some ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions is the vehicle for a complex iconographic program that is unrivaled in Christian art. On one side, the stylized trunk of a tree is superimposed on the Cross, and the terminals present scenes from the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the other side, Hebrew prophets, each holding a scroll with his own words, surround the central, allegorical medallion of the Lamb of God, apparently being pierced by the personification of Synagogue. Symbols of the Evangelists, authors of the Gospels, appear on the terminals: the lion of Mark on the left, the ox of Luke on the right, and the eagle of John on the top; the angel of Matthew once on the bottom is lost.

It has often been suggested that the cross comes from the English abbey at Bury Saint Edmunds in Suffolk. The richness of subjects and the overall intellectual character suggest intense theological dialogue. Prominent among the inscriptions are several strong invectives against Jews. Though it is impossible to know precisely who commissioned this piece and with what aims, the cross offers some indication of the anti-Jewish sentiment prevalent in England at this time. Indeed, by the end of the thirteenth century, Jews were expelled from the country.

A. (central medallion)
On Scroll of Moses, Center:
(Et erit vita tua quasi pendens ante non credes vite tue, Vulgate, Deuteronomy 28:66, trans.: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee: and thou...shalt have none assurance of thy life, King James Bible)

On Scroll, upper left:
(et sicut Moyses exaltavit serpente in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium Hominis,
Vulgate,John 3:14; trans: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, King James Bible.)

On Scroll, lower left:
(Omnes Prophetae Testimonium Perhibent, Vulgate, Acts 10:43; trans.: To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins., King James Bible)

scroll of reclining figure, top center:
(Quare futurus es velut vir vagus ut fortis qui non potest salvare? Vulgate, Jeremiah 14:9; trans.: Why wilt thou be as a wandering man, as a might man that can not save? Douay version)

scroll of figure, lower right:
(Quare ergo rubrum est inducentum tuum; et vestmenta tua sicut calcantium in torculari? Vulgate, Isaiah 63:2; trans.: Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress: Douay version)

B. (Right Terminal Plaque)
On scroll at base of plaque:
(Et plangent eum plancti quasi...unigentum., Vulgate, Zacharias 12:10; trans.: ...and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, King James Bible)

C. (Bottom Terminal Plaque)
On band across top:
(Prophetae et Testimonium Zacharias; refers to Zechariah 12:10, And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced... King James Bible. This prefigures John 19:37, They shall look on him whom they pierced, King James Bible)

E. (Left Terminal Plaque)
On Scroll of angel:
(Queritis Iesum Nazarenum crucifixum, Vulgate, Mark 16:6; trans.: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified King James Bible)

F. (Top Piece)
On scroll of angel to left:
(Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes in coelum? , Vulgate, Acts 1:11; trans.: Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? King James Bible)

On scroll of angel to right:
([Hic Iesus qui assumptus est a vobis in caelum], sic veniet quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in caelum, Vulgate, Acts 1:11; trans.: This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven, King James Bible)

On scroll of High Priest, left:
(Noli scribere, Rex Judaeorum: sed quia ipse dixit; Rex Sum Judaeorum, Vulgate, John 19:21; trans.: Write not, The King of Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews, King James Bible)

On scroll of pilate, right:
(Quod scripsi scripsi, Vulgate, John 19:22; trans; What I have written, I have written, King James Bible)

(on cross title, continued)
Latin, (translit.: Jesus Nazarenus Rex Confessorum)

(on cross title, hand of God emerging from shell [corners of titulus cut off in ancient time])
(translation: Jesus of Nazarus, King, Confessor)

(on front of cross stem)
(trans.: Earth shakes, death is conquerered and bewails, from the opening sepulchre life surges forth, synagogue collapses after vain effort)

Front: Large Inscription
The hexameter on the front of the cross stem refers to the events that took place at the exact moment Christ died.
Ante Topic-Mimara, Zurich (sold 1963)
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