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The Constanza Carnelian and the Development of Crucifixion Iconography in Late Antiquity
Plate 4 ‘Acclamation’ sarcophagus,
4th century AD. Palazzo del Duc di
Ceri in Borgo Vecchio. Previously in
the Vatican, now lost

Plate 5 ‘Star-and-Wreath’
sarcophagus, c. AD 375–400. Musée
de l’Arles Antique, Inv. no. FAN
92.002483 (casket), FAN 92.002484

alone is used to convey the dominance of the cross-form of
Christ’s own body. Consequently, if this imagery is regarded as
being part of the broader search for and development of an
iconography that symbolically expressed the celestial
veneration of Jesus as a figure of triumph and of authority by
the Apostles, the iconography borne by the Constanza and Nott
gems (the latter moreover including the symbol of the lamb)
emerges as an entirely logical, if perhaps less popular variant
on a prevalent and powerful theme in 4th-century ad Christian
While the two gems thus provide critical evidence for the
representation of the Crucifixion by Christians prior to the 5th
century ad, there is a third gem that predates both examples,
and which points to an even earlier manifestation of a pictorial
experiment with the subject. A large bloodstone intaglio (Pls
6a–b), acquired by the British Museum in 1986, preserves a
unique representation of Jesus who is again named and
depicted hanging from a tau cross.19 This gem (see also
Engemann in this volume) is larger than the two gems already
considered; and as has been argued elsewhere, the size, with
the style of the carving, material and inscription show it to be
typical of a large group of Graeco-Roman magical amulets
originating in Egypt and Syria and used widely in the Roman
Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries ad.20 Sharing
important iconographic features with later representations of
the subject in Christian art, this third gem can be seen to
present a distinct, amuletic, usage of emergent pictorial
practices in which the name of Jesus and an image of his death
are combined.
Like the group of amulets to which it belongs, the magical
Crucifixion gem is covered with a densely carved and largely
incomprehensible inscription that includes some Greek letters.

On the obverse (Pl. 6a) a nine-line inscription begins with the
invocation, ‘Son, Father, Jesus Christ’, followed by uncertain
magical names (including soam noam), vowels, and possibly, as
Derchain suggested in his original publication of the gem, the
word ‘hung up’ – which would of course correlate nicely with
the iconography. On the reverse (Pl. 6b), another nine-line
inscription, written in another hand, contains amongst its
strings of letters two names familiar from magical papyri and
other magical gems. Also present is the name Emmanuel from
Isaiah 7:14, taken by Christians to be a prophetic reference to
Jesus. So the crucified figure is possibly named twice (on the
front and back of the stone) as well as depicted.
With the exception of the image, the gem fits well
stylistically into the large body of magical gems of the 2nd and
3rd centuries ad. The iconography of the Crucifixion is
unusual. Jesus is portrayed as a nude, bearded and long-haired
man, hanging from a tau cross in a fashion – with legs split
apart – not seen again in Christian art for the representation of

Plates 6a–b. Bloodstone, eastern Mediterranean (Syria?), late 2nd–3rd
century AD, 30 x 25 x 5.8mm. London, British Museum, PE 1986,0501.1; from
the collection of Roger Periere, Paris

‘Gems of Heaven’ | 217