The Crucifixion

La Crucifixión

Feast day for the Triumph of the Holy Cross: September 14

Essay by Paris Bowers

The representation of the death of Jesus on the cross is a central theme of Catholic faith symbolizing a way to free humanity of the Original Sin perpetrated by the Fall of Adam and Eve and, consequently, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the fall from divine grace. The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary allowed for her to be a pure vessel, not touched by sin, and to be the Mother of Christ. The death of Christ washed the Original Sin caused by the Fall of Adam and Eve allowing human Souls to have the opportunity for salvation and redemption. The Crucifixion is a central part of the Passion of Christ as it is the pivotal moment when Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice for the good of mankind.

Most depictions of the Crucifixion are now highly symbolic rather than historical. The current symbology is constant: Jesus on the cross wearing a loincloth in the center of the composition with the Virgin Mary off to Jesus’ right, and John the Evangelist of to his left set against a hilly landscape representing Golgotha or Mount Calvary. Usually, at the base of the cross is a skull indicating the original location of Adam’s burial. The blood of Jesus dripping down onto it is a visual depiction of erasing the effects of the Original Sin. He usually has only 3 nails; one in each hand and one in his crossed feet.

Figure 1 maintains that tradition of symmetry with Jesus being depicted in the center of the composition flanked by The Virgin Mary on his right side and John the Evangelist on his left side; at the base of the cross, Mary of Magdalena mourns. In Figure 2, Saint Joseph is shown standing on the left, identifiable by his flowering staff. Also, The Virgin Mary is represented as the Sorrowful Mother with a sword embedded on her heart. At the base of the cross is a skull that is supposed to identify the Crucifixion site as the location where Adam was buried. In this case, blood is not depicted as dripping down onto the skull.

Figure 1. The Crucifixion / La Crucifixión

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on Tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection # 1968.3.51.

Donor: Dr. and Mrs. Andrew M. Babey.

Figure 2. The Crucifixion / La Crucifixión

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on Tin. 13½ x 9 ¾. NMSU Art Gallery Collection # 1967.2.52.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K Neidich.

References

Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Pierce, James Smith., and Horst Woldemar Janson. From Abacus to Zeus: A Handbook of Art History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.

Wroth, William. Christian Images in Hispanic New Mexico: The Taylor Museum Collection of Santos. Colorado Springs, CO: Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1982.

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles M. Lovell. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.