Romanesque: Christus Triumphans

Romanesque: Christus Triumphans

Hi everyone, we are in another episode of the Romanesque series and today I want to talk about this really old crucifix. It is actually the oldest painted crucifix known, but that’s not the only thing that makes it special.

This work of art in fact, was the foundation of one of the main Medieval pictorial styles and it influenced many artists until Renaissance.

Crucifix Master Guglielmo - Italian Romanesque
ARTIST: Master Guglielmo
NAME Christus Triumphans
LOCATION Santa Maria Assunta in Sarzana, Italy
YEAR 1138
TYPE Painting
DIMENSIONS 299×214 cm (117 by 84 in)
MATERIAL Tempera and gold on wood

The Crucifix Story Romanesque: Christus Triumphans

I said it’s the oldest, but when exactly? We are in 1138 and it is a tempera and gold on panel. It’s pretty big: 299×214 cm (117 by 84 in) and it’s visible inside the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Sarzana, Northern Italy.

It was painted by Maestro Guglielmo, literally “Master Guglielmo”. We have no idea who was him, but that’s how he signed himself as “Master”. And this is actually one of the surprises since it was really rare during the Medieval time for an artist to sign his works of art. Artists back then were considered craftsmen, so nobody cared too much about who did what.

“Triumphant Christ” – Romanesque: Christus Triumphans

However, his skills were really good. We need to remember that it was painted 9 centuries ago… Jesus is depicted in the style of the “triumphant Christ”. That means he is crucified, but he is not showing pain and misery.

He is actually looking at us and the painter depicted his muscles with color gradients, in contrast with the thick dark line of Jesus’ shape.


Even if Jesus is not in pain, however, there are some intense details... can you see them in the interactive image below?

Why is this Christus Triumphans so important?

Of course Christ is the main subject of the scene. However, another reason why this work of art started to become more important, was for its communication role. Jesus in fact is surrounded by many religious figures and scenes. The saints Isaiah and Jeremiah under his hands. But we can identify also Mary with her iconic red and blue clothes.

In the lower half 6 scenes from the Biblical episode of the Passion of Christ culminating with Jesus’s ascension to paradise in the top space, called “cimasa”.

So every single space is decorated. And the reason is that we need to remember that most of the people couldn’t read. But they were able to identify the characters and scenes because they were regularly going to church. That’s why on the crucifix there are very few words, but mostly figures.

Thanks to its communication effectiveness, this kind of work of art became more and more popular and the Church started to push to use them. They had also other advantages: they were easier to make compare to a fresco and they were movable.

Like nowadays with the social medias, the images are often still more effective than words, so check on mine if you want more art pictures. See you in the next episode. Ciao!

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