Fragment of wooden Crucifix

Mr. & Mrs. Kelly, The Minnesota and North Dakota Chapter

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This monumental wooden sculpture constitutes an important chapter in European Art between the Medieval and Baroque period, with particular interest spreading in the Germanic and Northern European communities. The overall success of the artistic techniques of this antique genre is tied largely to how easily the necessary materials could be found. In comparison to the expensiveness and low supply of marble, wood was a relatively flexible and economic option. In Italy, appreciation for this genre of artisan manufacture was well-noted as precious artifacts were imported (particularly from the northern regions and the Central Apennines) where it was much easier to retrieve quality raw materials, and professionalism was widely associated with diligent craftsmanship with the aforementioned supply. Only recently, however, has there been a revival of interest in these pieces – not simply for the purpose of amateur or localized studies – but to truly appreciate the lifecycle of the work from conception to completion as it paralleled artistic developments in painting, sculpture techniques, and later, innovations in bronze.

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This carved figure presented here, although devoid of arms and the cross onto which it was affixed, is a fine example of the iconic form of the suffering Christ. His inert head rests dramatically upon His chest, His limbs hang exasperatingly contracted, and the naturalism with which the folds of His loincloth stiffen, then soften, and pile atop one another contribute all the more to this terrible image of death. As intended, an arousal of devotional sentiments upon contemplating this piece is simply inevitable. At the same time, the accentuated anatomical detail carries with it a seed of a different order of formality: the crudeness in its realism was commonly seen in northern regions. Other elements, however – such as the slender bodily proportions and exact geometric principles – are characteristically Italian, with Tuscan influences carrying the mental genesis underlying its design.

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Amidst the classic figurative proportions, there exists an organic solidity in the piece: it has a plasticity in form according to Nicola Pisano, but still retains confirmation in the universality of the Giotto model. Given the difficulties inherent in forming accurate comparisons between these two principles, the technical and stylistic roots of the piece should probably be pinpointed near Florence sometime between the third and fourth decade of the 14th century.

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It is nearly impossible to provide an exact history of this piece, even though it comes from such an important time of Gothic sculpture. The restoration will indeed be helpful in providing more in-depth information for its analysis and, thus, its artistic origin. In the meantime, it is most indicatively a result of Tuscan art, deeply marked by the traditional techniques taught by Giotto. The master artist had actually stayed in Naples between 1328 and 1333, leaving important traces of his art in that geographical region. It is certainly within reason to associate the design aesthetics of this work to one of Giotto’s Neapolitan followers.

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