The earliest extant public image of the crucifixion of Christ appears on a single relief panel on the early-fifth-century wooden doors of the Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome (figs. 1 and 2). General scholarly consensus dates the construction of the church to the pontificate of Pope Celestine I (422–433 c.e.) as stated in the surviving inscription on the church's interior west wall.1 Construction probably continued into the pontificate of Sixtus III (432–440 c.e.) when the church was formally consecrated.2 Although in the ensuing centuries the image of the Crucified Christ—the Crucifix—attained canonical status, scholars seeking precedents for Santa Sabina's crucifixion scene have failed to determine its pedigree satisfactorily within the Christian artistic tradition. We propose that broadening our understanding of artistic prototypes for the Santa Sabina crucifixion image to include both formal and theological elements allows for a more nuanced and promising investigation.
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