Paolo Veneziano

Circa 1350
Church of San Giacomo dall'Orio, Venice

In keeping with the more emotional Gothic departures from Romanesque style, Jesus is shown dead on the cross, his arms sagging from the weight of his body. Instead of a skirt or colobium he wears a tied loincloth.

The figures on the crosspiece model the reactions expected of the viewer, a sense of sorrow mitigated by calm prayer and contemplation. On the left, Mary bows her head and knits her fingers in a gesture of prayerful sorrow. On the right, John expresses his pain at Jesus' death by holding his left hand palm-out to the cross. He also holds his right hand to his cheek. In earlier images of St. Joseph at the Nativity, this gesture expresses contemplation, not sorrow (examples from 1291 and 1305-1306).

The sense of calm dignity in both portraits derives in part from the picture at the top of St. Michael the Archangel, whose sceptre and cross-emblazoned shield refer to his role in the final conquest that the sacrifice of the Cross makes possible. (Compare this portrait of Michael with sceptre, cross-emblazoned shield, and defeated dragon).

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Read more about the crucifix in history.

Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.