Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crucified and the Twelve Apostles

Gem from Constanza, Romania
mid 4th century. Syria (?)
The Trustees of the British Museum,
Department of Prehistory and Europe, London
the collection of A. W. Franks

In these portrayals the carnelian carving has a combination of IKHTHYS with crucifix and the impression has image of a LAMB under the cross.

Carnelian 1.05 x3 x 1.35 cm. 

Felicity Harley-McGrown wrotes about this rare gem depicting the crucified and the Twelve Apostles
This small carnelian intaglio, which once served as a personal seal, is engraved with Jesus crucified on a T-shaped cross amidst the twelve apostles. He is nude and stands upright on the exergual line, his body facing frontally with his head and feet turned in profile to the left, his arms outstretched below the patibulum of the cross. 

The limp fall of his elbows and the faccidity of his hands indicate that his arms are understood to be tied to the cross at the wrists, in a manner similar to the previous gem (Bloodstone). Jesus is twice as large as the twelve diminutive apostles who stand in two lines of six each beneath him; they wear close-fitting mantles (pallia) summarily indicated by diagonal cuts across their bodies. 

Above Jesus’s head is engraved the acrostic ΙΧΘΥC,ichthys, meaning “fish” and signifying “Jesus Christ, Sonof God, Savior.” 

A similar composition appears on a second gem, which survives only as a plaster impression.

Plaster cast of an engraved gem, 4th century
German Archaeological Institute, Romecollection of G. F. Nott

There, the naked crucified Jesus is nimbate and his arms are outstretched rigidly (as on the Maskell ivory). There is little differentiation in scale between Jesus and the apostles; instead, Jesus stands on what appears to be a column and is raised high above them. The two apostles at the head of each group touch the cross, and at least two others within the procession extend their right arms in the ancient gesture of acclamation. A lamb stands below, and across the composition is written, in oddly spelled Greek, ehco xpectoc, “Jesus Christ.” 

The presence of the twelve apostles at the Crucifixion does not accord with the canonical Gospel accounts (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50; Luke 22:54, John 18:15), which state that all but Peter and one other disciple abandoned Jesus. Subsequent depictions of the Crucifixion in the fifth and sixth centuries follow the Gospel narratives more closely. 

The composition of the triumphant crucified Jesus as the focus of two apostolic processions does, however, appear to be related to images found on a series of Roman sarcophagi of the later fourth century in which the apostles in heaven ceremoniously approach the victorious cross (in lieu of Jesus), bearing wreaths or raising their hands in veneration (the so-called star-and-wreath group).

The symbolic intent is to emphasize the triumph of Christ over death and to recognize the role of the apostles as witnesses of the true words of Christ. A contemporary variant substitutes the cross motif at the center with a depiction of Christ presenting the law to the assembled apostles (the traditio legis). 

The survival of two gems with this unusual composition provides rare evidence for the existence of unconventional Christian images with complex theological significance at a relatively early date in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire (Syria?).
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