Judas hanging from a tree with the " thirty pieces of silver " spilling from the bag beneath his feet. The cross has the form of a processional cross and stands upon a splayed foot. The head of Christ is upright, the arms are stretched horizontally and the feet side by side.
Our Lady and St John are placed together to the right of the Crucified while Longinus, dressed a n Roman soldier. pre pares to pierce the side on the left. Now this is exceptional if not unique. In all other crucifixions (known to the writer) Longinus opens the wound on the right.
THE Eastern type, in which
Christ is bearded and wears the long sleeveless robe, the colobium, is exemplified in a manuscript illustrated by the monk Rabula in his monastery in Mesopotamia in 586A.D, This is now in Florence. Here Longinus has his counterpart in Stephaton who lifts the sponge, dipped in vinegar, upon a long reed. The thieves are bound to their crosses with ropes and have their tunics rolled down to the waist.
The scene has all the narrative detail beloved of the Oriental mind and includes the soldiers dicing at the foot of the ,cross for possession of the seamless coat.
Our Lady raises her hands under a fold of her cloak. the accepted attitude of grief, and the gesture is repeated by the women on the opposite side. The sun and the moon are depicted and a vague suggestion of hills in the background.
The oldest monumental painting t ;I the crucifixion is a fresco upon the wall of a chapel that opens From the sanctuary in the very ancient church in Rome no known as Santa Maria Antique. The fresco dates from the middle of the eighth century and its composition shows a simplified form )f Rabula's manuscript and quite possibly was copied from it.
From the seventh to the ninth sentury Rome was more of an Eastern than a Western city. Due o the Arab invasions and later to the Iconoclastic persecutions I housands of monks fled to Rome.
Many of these refugees found a home in the monastery attached to this church (for the popes were anti-iconoclastic and supporters of representational art) and they covered its walls with paintings which now form a valuable school for the study of Christian art in that difficult period.
From the ninth to the twelfth century it is to the illuminated manuscripts and to the carved ivories that the student must turn and fortunately many fine examples still exist.
PHYSICAL ASPECT DURING all the early centuries there. was little emphasis in representations of
the crucifixion upon the physical aspect of Christ's death: the suffering was sublimated to its purpose. Perhaps the loveliest example of this conception is to be found in the magnificient twelfth century window in the cathedral at Poitiers : Our Lord's eyes are open, there is no contortion of the limbs while the outstretched hands suggest the wide embrace of a divine love that no suffering could conquer.
Today when religious persecution, and martyrdom, are no longer legendary but only too real and too frequent the Christian finds again his strength and his consolation in the triumph of the cross.
The. Kingship of Christ is reaffirmed : that king Whose throne was a Tree. And it may he that Christian art which for so many centuries expressed the mind and the teaching of the Church will return for inspiration
to its ancient heritage.
When the modern pilgrim goes down into the catacombs of Rome he finds that altars are rebuilt in the sanctuaries and upon the altars are beautiful caeicifixies of green and gilded bronze where Christ is the Christ of the early centuries : bearded, with hair that touches His shoulders Ile wears the long robe, the colobium, while from the arms of the cross hang the letters Alpha and Omega for is He not now, as ever, the First and the Last .