Blood on the Cross: The 'Crucifixus Dolorosus' and Violence in Italian Medieval Art
Raucher, Meredith Devorah
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Blood on the Cross investigates contemporary perceptions of the violent imagery of crucifixi dolorosi in Italy. Crucifixi dolorosi are life-sized wood crucifixes that present the painfully stretched and contorted, often startlingly bloody body of Christ. They proliferated across Europe in the late thirteenth century, particularly in Germany’s Rhine region and across Italy. Deriving from no clear artistic predecessor, the Italian crucifixi dolorosi have been labeled foreign, resulting in their persistent marginalization from the history of Italian medieval art. Previous scholarship generally sought out the origins of the image type, most often cited as Cologne. My dissertation takes a different approach by investigating the previously unexplored questions of how these objects functioned and were perceived by contemporary viewers. Arguing that the crucifixi dolorosi were a visual means of making late-medieval theological concepts, especially scholastic concepts of vision and beauty, accessible to ordinary viewers, it studies the Italian crucifixes as objects in their own right. My dissertation investigates the crucifixes at their points of intersection with contemporary devotional, scientific, and theological concern. Through their striking imagery, the crucifixi dolorosi called on beholders to regard them as loci of contact with the Divine and as instruments to aid in the devotional quest to imitate Christ. They compelled viewers to confront the limitations of visual representation and facilitated the ascent from physical to spiritual seeing. Such imagery encouraged the contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice, of his deformity on the cross and his true beauty – salvation. My study indicates the need to reevaluate the standard scholarly narrative of the history of Italian medieval art. Challenging the perception that the portrayal of wounds and suffering was characteristic of the North while the beautiful alone prevailed south of the Alps, I demonstrate that the deformed appearance of these crucifixes engaged with local devotional needs, as well as contemporary debates about the role and status of the image and the Eucharist. Blood on the Cross therefore returns the Italian crucifixi dolorosi to their local contexts and provides a deeper understanding of how late-medieval Italians intended their images to work. Adviser: Herbert Kessler; Second Reader: Felipe Pereda.