Icon of the Crucifixion

Icon of the Crucifixion. Formation of Iconography

Icon of the Crucifixion is the main scene in the Passion of Christ cycle. It is both a narrative and a deeply symbolic image. Currently, there are a number of iconographic variations of the Crucifixion. However, it pays to know that during the formation of canonical iconography, the image has undergone significant changes.

Icon of the Crucifixion: first images 

The earliest image of the Crucifixion dates from the 3rd century and has the exact opposite idea. It is the graffito from the Palatine palace in Rome, which represents a caricature. It depicts a figure with a donkey head on the cross. Based on the inscription next to the image, which reads “Aleksamen worships his God,” scholars concluded that it could be a means of ridiculing one of the Christian servants. But what is more important, the idea of worshiping crucified God already existed at that time.

In the 4th century, reliefs with the image of the crucifixion and cross appeared. They were closer to the current Crucifixion with their ideas but still looked very different.

In the following centuries, the icon of the Crucifixion started to get closer to the meaning we have in mind today, but it had certain visual differences. It was the image of the cross with the face of Christ in the medallion in the center and symbolic images where Christ was presented as a Lamb.

The first images of the Crucifixion, where Christ was depicted on the cross, date from the 4th century. This iconographic type, which is called “Christ Triumphant,” depicts Jesus as the King, in purple clothes and without any signs of suffering.

The iconography of the Crucifixion

The iconography of the following images of the Crucifixion was based on the text of the Gospel. Originally, all attributes from the Gospel were depicted deliberately, but after a while, the Crucifixion iconography took on a more familiar look.

In the icon of the Crucifixion, the cross with Christ crucified on it is always depicted in the center of the composition. At the foot of the cross, there is Adam’s skull as a symbol of the redemption of the original sin with Christ’s death. At the right hand of Christ, there is the Virgin Mary, sometimes with Mary Magdalene. St. John the Apostle and Longinos the Centurion are depicted at the left hand of Christ. There can also be images of robbers playing dice and angels depicted at the top of the composition.

Icon of the Crucifixion can be complicated by symbolic elements and images of the instruments of the Passion. It can be a separate icon or a center of the multi-part composition. However, its main idea remains unchanged – forgiveness and redemption.