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Annotated works


The Majesty of Christ on the Cross

Polychrome wood

130,5 x 107 x 14,7 cm

Romanesque and Gothic (12th Century - 15th Century)

N.° inv. 69/388

Donated by Banco de Bilbao in 1961

ANONYMOUS, CATALAN on Online collection

This figure of Christ on the cross, carved in wood with tempera polychromy, is an example of the iconographic variant of Christus triumphans known in Catalonia as "Majestat" (Majesty). It contains most of the characteristic features of this type, appearing against the cross rather than nailed to it, with a solemn bearing, eyes open, arms placed horizontally and attired in a tunic drawn in at the waist by a cincture and richly decorated with painted motifs and plaster reliefs. In the upper area of the obverse of the cross, an inscription describes the figure as "Jesus Christ King of the Jews".

Worthy of mention are the figures of the Virgin Mary and St John, painted at either side of the crossbeam, and of Adam rising from the dead in the lower area, that highlight the associations between the cross and the tree of the Original Sin. These characters, smaller in size than the crucified figure, make up a pictorial equivalent of the so-called Calvary, in which the carved figures usually accompany the image of the suffering Christ, who wears only a perizone. Strangely enough, the reverse of the cross is not decorated with the central motif of the Agnus Dei that invariably appears in such works and which is replaced here by ornamental patterns. This typology generally stands for Christ's triumph over death and for His regal quality as sovereign.

This Majesty, with its polychromy in perfect condition, evidences the spreading in Catalan Romanesque art of a typology that, from the 12th century, became a distinctive feature of Spanish mediaeval art. This work might have been inspired by images such as the Volto Santo in Lucca (Tuscany), the cult of which is documented from the late 11th century to the Gothic period. Made by an unknown artist, it may be the belated output of a workshop located in the Catalan Pyrenees. This is suggested by the painted figures, in particular that of Adam, stylistically in tune with works produced in the first half of the 13th century and no doubt inspired by the innovative trends developed around the year 1200. These figures turn the image into one of the most outstanding examples of the continued representation of the Majesty of Christ after the 12th century.  [J.C.S.]

Selected bibliography:

Manuel Trens. Les majestats catalanes : premi Massana de l'Excm. Ajuntament de Barcelona, any 1961. Barcelona : Alpha, 1966, p. 160, il. 72.

Ana Sánchez-Lassa de los Santos. “Restauración de un Cristo en Majestad del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao” en Urtekaria 1986: asterlanak, albistak = anuario 1986 : estudios, crónicas. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa ,1987, pp. 47-65.

Jordi Camps i Soria. “La majestad románica del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : notas para su contextualización = The Romanesque Majesty at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum : notes towards a contextualization = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoko maiestate erromanikoa : testuinguruko oar batzuk” en Buletina = Boletín = Bulletin, n.º 6. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2012, pp. 15-38.

Jordi Camps i Soria. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 12, n.º 1, ad vocem.

Annotated works