One of three hinged, multi-part neck crosses in the catalog (2020.30, 2020.47), this example is also the largest of the neck crosses and is the only one with figural decoration. The hinge attached to ..
One of three hinged, multi-part neck crosses in the catalog (2020.30, 2020.47), this example is also the largest of the neck crosses and is the only one with figural decoration. The hinge attached to the upper arm takes the form of a “cross pattée,” decorated on both sides with incised outlines and a circle on each arm. The complex main body of the object is composed of three compounding cross designs. Beginning at the center on side 1, is a small, straight-bar cross with an incised “X” at the crossing and circles on each arm. This central cross is embedded within a larger, intricately woven pattern of lines that create the overall cruciform shape of the object — the second of the three compounding cross designs. Each arm of the cross terminates in a straight edge; the left, right, and lower ends are appended with the third cross design: cross-like quatrefoils. Each quatrefoil is decorated with an incised “X” across the middle and circles in each lobe. In the interstitial space between each arm of the main cross is an abstract profile representation of a bird, identifiable by the pointed beak. Each bird faces inward, toward a vertical arm of the cross. The latticework body of the cross is emphasized on side 1 by straight incised lines down each “thread” of the design. The three compounding cross designs described above for side 1 are also visible on side 2, though side 2 lacks the incised decoration that further articulates each design. On side 2, the only incised decoration is a simplified design of two perpendicular lines running through two diamond shapes. These lines intersect with several of the cutout holes and continue into the curved ends of the cross arms. Additional visual information, such as the beaks and wings of the birds, are conveyed with incised lines on side 1. Side 2 lacks these details — the birds, for example, can be described on side 2 as crescents appended to the corners of the cross and linked to the upper and lower cross arms by a short bar. A nearly identical neck cross at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (no. 72-10-10) displays the same composition of four birds at the corners of a large central cross. This object, too, is hinged and would be prominent against the chest of the wearer. Birds may be interpreted specifically as doves symbolizing the soul liberated from death and as a sign of the Resurrection, or more generally as symbols of spiritual wisdom. This iconography can also be found in a variety of religious images, from processional crosses (2020.27) to manuscripts and monumental painting. Sarah Mathiesen, in Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 141. https://digital.kenyon.edu/perejournal/vol8/iss1/1/