Cross Fragment with the Mother of God
This cross fragment features an inscription reading ΜΗΡΘV (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ), Greek for "Mother of God". Below the inscription is a carving of the Virgin Mary, centered on the cross with her arms outstretch..more »
This cross fragment features an inscription reading ΜΗΡΘV (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ), Greek for "Mother of God". Below the inscription is a carving of the Virgin Mary, centered on the cross with her arms outstretched. The Virgin in an orant, or praying position, was intended to intercede for the owner, offering divine mediation. The cross has suffered considerable damage. The lower arm is now lost; three of the finial discs appear to have been broken off, and the outer edges of each of the three remaining arms have jagged grooves. At some point, a repair was made to the cross. The fragmented lower arm was reattached to the upper half of the cross by a plate mounted by two anchors. This cross may have been used in processions. Byzantine churches often had several types of processional crosses that were held by the clergy during ceremonies. Some processional crosses were also left as votive offerings and found in small, private religious foundations. Since our cross is small, made of a comparatively inexpensive material, not heavily adorned, and made from a mold, it could have been an object that was accessible to many people of any social standing. A larger, gilded processional cross, now at the Royal Ontario Museum (no. 994.220.11), features similar Virgin Mary iconography. While this cross is of higher quality and the inscription shows the personalization that the Byzantines gave their votive crosses, our cross fragment was no less personal or cared for. The repair to the cross suggests it had a long life with many owners who each bestowed the cross with different meanings, and required of it different intent. Setting aside any modern notions of quality of aesthetics, we are able to see in these repairs what a mass-produced cross such as this can tell us about human engagement with it. Sources Consulted John A. Cotsonis, Byzantine Figural Processional Crosses (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1994). Helen C. Evans, and William D. Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997). Liz James, “Senses and Sensibility in Byzantium,” Art History 27 (2004): 522–537. Anna Kartsonis, “The Responding Icon,” in Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium, ed. Linda Safran (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998). 58–80. Asen Kirin, ed. Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC (Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2005). Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989). Karen Sonik, “Pictorial Mythology and Narrative in the Ancient Near East,” in Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art, eds. Brian A. Brown, and Marian H. Feldman (Boston: De Gruyter, 2013), 265–293. Catalina Mendivil ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
3 1/2 x 3 9/16 x 1/16 in. (8.9 x 9.0 x 0.2 cm) 2.0 oz. (57.7 g)
Eastern Mediterranean; perhaps Thessaloniki, Greece
"Mother of God"