Friday, February 15, 2008

jesus as image

In early Christian art Jesus was represented emblematically: he appeared as a fish or anchor carved on stone walls of the catacombs. He was rarely represented with the cross; for his early followers, the cross represented the death of a common criminal.

Even more abstract were the inscriptions of chi-rho (PX), the monogram formed from the transliteration of his greek title, Khristos. This monogram appeared on funerary slabs, simple gold rings, and even on the coin of Constantine in the fourth century. Lesser used were verbal images from the bible, including the metaphors of Christ as the vine and Christ as the Good Shepherd.


The first surviving relief showing the crucifixion appeared in the fifth century. His image is flat, expressionless: nothing like the gory images that came to dominate the late medieval period. By the thirteenth century, Jesus was depicted with all the trappings of morality— blood leaked from the wound in his side, tears streamed down his face.

He had become embodied, and in turn, devotion to his pain became a staple of Christian imagination. The devotion to the wounds of Christ flourished: a cross would often feature five carbuncles representing his five wounds.


Rings, too, bore inscriptions that sought healing from the wounds of Christ. Particular attention was paid to the wound in Christ’s side: pierced by the lance of a roman soldier, it pronounced him dead, and was considered the door to his heart. The instruments of the passion narrative— including the crown of thorns, the lance, the nails, and the bloodied scourge— became hieroglyphic reminders.


His wounds— particularly the wound in his side— became flattened, turned into emblems: a red one-dimensional lozenge (diamond) shape formed part of the “divine heraldry.” The wounds and instruments were often formed to make up a coat of arms of Jesus.
The wounds were sites of devotion, literal openings for the believer to "enter" Christ.

read: Sacred and Legendary Art, Anna Jameson
Christ Lore Fredrk Hackwood
Corpus Christi: the Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture Miri Rubin
The Image of Christ Gabriele Finaldi

Sunday, February 10, 2008

lord of the rings, part 1

So Pharaoh said to Joseph: "Since God has made all this known to you, no one can be as wise and discerning as you are. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people shall dart at your command. Only in respect to the throne shall I outrank you.
Herewith," Pharaoh told Joseph, "I place you in charge of the whole land of Egypt."
With that, Pharaoh took off his signet ring and put it on Joseph's finger. He had him dressed in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. He then had him ride in the chariot of his vizier, and they shouted "Abrek!" before him. Thus was Joseph installed over the whole land of Egypt.
from The New American Bible, Genesis 41

The use of signet-rings as symbols of great respect and authority is mentioned in several parts of the Holy Scriptures, from which it would seem that they were then common among persons of rank. They were sometimes wholly of metal, but frequently the inscription was borne on a stone, set in gold or silver. The impression from the signet-ring of a monarch gave the force of a royal decree to any instrument to which it was attached. Hence the delivery or transfer of it gave the power of using the royal name, and created the highest office in the State.
from William Jones' Finger-ring Lore, 1877

And, coupled with mythology, we have, according to the ancients, the origin of the ring. Jupiter, from revenge, caused Strength, Force and Vulcan to chain his cousin-german Prometheus to the frosty Caucasus, where a vulture, all the livelong day, banqueted his fill on the black viands of his hot liver. [...] but as Jupiter had sworn to keep Prometheus bound for the space of time mentioned, he, in order not to violate his oath, commanded that Prometheus should always wear upon his finger an iron ring, to or in which should be fastened a small fragment of Caucasus, so that it might be true, in a certain sense, that Prometheus still continued bound to that rock. Thus, as we have said, came the idea of the first ring, and, we may add, the insertion of a stone.
from Charles Edwards' The History and Poetry of Finger-rings, 1855

Pliny believed that the use of rings had not existed even in Greece at the time of the Trojan war, and he tells us that the first date in Roman history at which ho could trace any general use of them was in A.u.c. 449, in the time of Cneius Flavius, the son of Annius. Yet, as he adds, after this date they must have come into use very rapidly, for, in the second Punic war, they were so abundant that Hannibal was able to send from Italy to Carthage three modii of thorn. The next advance in luxury was the practice of inserting or setting a precious stone in the gold of the ring, and it was not till a still later period that the use of signet rings was adopted, which implied the engraving of a device, of some kind or other, on the stone of the ring.
from The Intellectual Observer, Review of Natural History, 1867