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Greece (Mount Athos) 18th century (1700 - 1799)

Western Europe 19th century (1800 - 1899)

Carved cypress wood, metalwork and gilding

Height: 49.5 cm (including stand); Height: 38.1 cm (from top of metal stand);

Acquisition (source, method, date)
Gambier-Parry, Mark; bequest; 1966

About this work
This type of carved wooden cross has been used in Orthodox church services for blessing the congregation from at least the sixteenth century to the present day. The arms are carved with miniature scenes from the Cycle of Great Feasts, known as the Dodekaorton in Greek. This cross begins with the Annunciation at the top and concludes with the Entry to Jerusalem at the bottom on the other side. Finials at each end show episodes from the Old Testament and images of saints, while busts of biblical prophets and symbols of the four Evangelists appear inside dragon-shaped carvings. Both the Old and New Testament scenes evoke the idea of salvation through sacrifice, as do the acronyms incised into the thickness of the cross’s arms: ΤΚΠΓ stands for ‘the Place of the Skull has Become Paradise’, and ΑΠΜΣ means ‘the Cross is the Beginning of the Sacrament of Faith’. This cross was probably made in the renowned monastic community of Mount Athos, which for centuries was a centre of miniature wood carving. The craft is still practised by the monks of Athos.

Despite the small scale of the scenes, the craftsman has suggested depth through the virtuosity of his carving and attention to detail. Many areas are pierced right through, and elements such as the flames from the Old Testament scene of The Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace (Book of Daniel) are painted red. The perfect spelling of the inscriptions accompanying each of the main scenes suggests the cultured milieu in which this cross was produced. (Permanent collection label)

Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

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