Orthodox vs Catholic Crucifixion Iconography

Orthodox vs Catholic Crucifixion Iconography

Crucifixion is an essential part of Christianity. You can see it in icons, sculptures, and miniatures. It can be made of wood, metal, stone, or painted on canvas or icon board. If to compare Orthodox vs Catholic iconography, we can see general principles. However, there are several features that can help attribute Orthodox and Catholic icons.

Iconography of the Сrucifixion of Jesus Christ

The plot of the Crucifixion in iconic images appeared quite late compared to others. However, it still had time to undergo some transformations. For example, the familiar image of Jesus Christ in loincloth appeared not earlier than the 9th century. In artworks created before this period of time, we can see Christ in a robe of chiton and himation.

Among the typical attributes, there is an image of Adam’s skull under the cross. Sometimes, it is sprinkled with blood.

The crucifixion scene takes place at Golgofa Mountain, in the background of the Jerusalem wall. Except for Christ, there are often images of John the Theologian (on the right side) and the Virgin (on the left), as well as images of St. Longinus and Mary Magdalene, which appeared at a later date.

Sometimes, there are also images of Arma Christi or warriors playing dice.

Orthodox vs Catholic interpretations of the Crucifixion: main differences 

A comparison of Orthodox and Catholic Crucifixion icons makes it clear that the text on the titlo (plaque at the top of the cross), or rather its language, is different. In the Orthodox image, we can read “I.Н.Ц.І.,” but in the Catholic one, it says, “INRI” (Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdæorvm). Abbreviations refer to Pontius Pilate’s sentence written at the titlo after Christ’s crucifixion. It says, “There was a written notice above Him, which read: this is the king of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). In Catholic tradition, titlo sometimes can be transformed into a scroll.

Visual differences between Orthodox and Catholic crucifixions are ideological contradictions mostly. In the first case, Christ’s image on the cross embodies redemption, but in the second case, it is a symbol of suffering. This causes differences in details.

Orthodox vs Catholic tradition

For example, Christ in the Orthodox tradition has His arms parallel to the floor, and His legs have two tacks. In the Catholic one, Christ’s hands are raised up, shoulders go down under the weight of the body, and legs are crossed and punctured with one tack (from the middle of the 13th century).

The facial expression of Christ also differs in two Christian traditions. Humility and even peace contrast with torment and suffering. In Catholic images, a crown of thorns with blood drops also adds drama.

If to compare Orthodox vs Catholic icon tradition, there is another interesting detail. Until the late 19th century, there were a lot of crucifixion paintings and sculptures in secular art in the Catholic tradition only. A lot of talented artists used this plot in their work: Albrecht Altdorfer, Fra Angelico, Jacques de Baerze, Lorenzo di Bicci, Sandro Botticelli, Francesco del Cossa, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Eugène Delacroix, Justus Glesker, and others.