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Crucifixion

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CRUCIFIXION. The history of cruci fixion as a mode of punishment for crime must be studied as a part of the Roman system of jurisprudence rather than of any Eastern system, Asiatic or Grecian. Greece and Asia had indeed from very early times occasionally resorted to it ; but the practice did not become universal. The Hebrews, for example, adopted or accepted it only under Roman compulsion: under their own system, before Palestine be came Roman territory, they inflicted the death penalty, by stoning. At Rome, however, from the period of the Republic until the 4th century (when Constantine, in memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ, abolished this form of punish ment) it was customarily inflicted upon slaves found )3-nifty of denouncing their masters. Provincial brigands might also be crucified, but the crucifixion of a Roman citizen was never permitted by law.

In art, the cross upon which Christ was nailed has been usually represented as one formed with the vertical staff or post extend ing noticeably above the horizontal beam; and this harmonizes not only with the description in Matt. xxvii, 37 — that °they set up over His head His accusation written° —but also with The traditions transmitted to posterity by the earliest Christian Fathers. It seems to us that the choice of the T form by certain modern painters lacks justification. Certainly the oldest known works of Christian artists Indicate the general acceptance of the so-called immisa or Latin form of that symbol which, from the time of the sacrificial death onward, the faith ful regarded as an emblem of divine approval of Christian virtues; and there is no good rea son for supposing that the continuity of interest in the symbol of the Passion was ever wholly broken. Artistic representation and reproduc tion of the sacred theme, however, appear to have been frowned upon until, in the 6th cen tury, the carving of crucifixes began, and, in the 8th, the crucifixion was represented in mosaic. The latter was made for the oratory that Pope John VII built in the Vatican (A.D. 705), and it exemplifies the artistic treat

ment of its theme—especially by clothing the figure of Christ —noted throughout the first period, which extended from the 6th century to the 12th or 13th. It has been well said that in this early period *The Crucified is shown adhering to the cross, not hanging forward from it: He is alive and shows no signs of physical suffering; He is clad in a long, flow ing, sleeveless tunic which reaches the knees. The head is erect, and surrounded by a nimbus, and bears a royal crown.* We see Christ not suffering but triumphing gloriously on the cross. "Moreover Christian art for a longtime objected to stripping Christ of His garments, and the traditional tunic remained till the 9th century or even later.* But presently realism begins to transform Christian art; the tunic becomes a shorter garment, reaching from waist to knees ; the head droops and is crowned with thorns; the arms are bent back; the body is contorted; the face is wrung with agony; blood flows from the wounds. Usually, but with conspicuous exceptions, realism prevailed during the second period (12th or 13th century onward), and often the living and triumphant Christ gives place to a Christ dead, in all the humiliation of His Passion. The older inter pretation, with derivatives in the second period, may be exemplified as follows: Wholly serene, unmoved, superior to suffering are the 8th cen tury representation in ivory in the Museum of Cividale and the fresco, also of the 8th cen tury, in the church of Santa Maria Antigua in Rome. Giorgione ('Christ with the Cross') and Rubens ('Descent from the Cross') dwell upon His beauty—the former upon the beauty of the face; the latter of the naked body. Tintoretto ((The Crucifixion,' church of San Cassiano, Venice) represents the Saviour as a robust man who evidently is able to endure anything unflinchingly, almost defiantly, thanks to physical courage.