The Crucifixion, c. 1200 (from Christus triumphans to Christus patiens)

Christ Triumphant (Christus triumphans), also known as the 432 Cross, tempera on panel, c. 1180–1200, 277 x 231 cm and Crucifix and Eight Stories from the Passion (Christus patiens), also known as the 434 Cross, c. 1240, tempera on panel, 247 x 201 cm (both in the Uffizi, Florence);  conversation with Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] We’re in one of the first galleries in the Uffizi in Florence, looking at two crucifixion scenes. These are large paintings, they’re tempera on panel, and there’s an important distinction between them, even though they’re both late Medieval paintings.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:19] One is late 12th, the other is early 13th century, so we’re at this transitional moment in Italian painting.

Dr. Zucker: [0:26] The earlier of the two paintings is a Christ Triumphant. Christ is shown on a cross, but perhaps surprising for modern viewers, his eyes are open, and he looks fine. There is no sense of pain. There is the smallest stylized representation of blood, and he’s on a cross, but he looks as if he’s perfectly well.

Dr. Harris: [0:47] We have this idea, which is central to Christianity, that Christ triumphs over death. He dies on the cross, but he is resurrected. He lives again. Just as in Christian theology we will, assuming we get to heaven.

Dr. Zucker: [1:00] It’s as if the spiritual has completely triumphed over the physical. But an amazing change takes place within a few decades of this painting, an increasing emphasis of Christ as physical, as human. One of the expressions of that is the rise of the Franciscans, the mendicant order that emphasized Christ’s humanity.

Dr. Harris: [1:21] Saint Francis himself miraculously acquires the wounds of the Crucifixion, and so we have this renewed interest in Christ’s suffering. We see that very clearly. Here, the blood drips down from Christ’s wounds in a way that looks much more like real blood.

Dr. Zucker: [1:40] His body also references suffering. His eyes are closed. His brow is knit. It seems as if he’s enduring great pain. His body is swayed so that there’s a sense of gravity pulling at his body.

Dr. Harris: [1:53] The other interesting thing about both of these, we have what we call apron scenes. These are these small narrative scenes on either side that tell some of the stories from the life of Christ.

Dr. Zucker: [2:04] In the Triumphant Christ, these are read from top to bottom, left to right. The scenes are, Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles.

Dr. Harris: [2:12] Then next we have the Kiss of Judas, when Judas identifies Christ to the Roman soldiers who will arrest him, try him, and ultimately crucify him.

Dr. Zucker: [2:22] The Flagellation, which is the whipping of Christ, the torture of Christ.

Dr. Harris: [2:26] Then of course, because the central main scene is the Crucifixion, we skip over that and we go to what happens after, which is the Deposition, the taking of Christ’s body down from the cross.

Dr. Zucker: [2:36] Then we have the Lamentation, the Virgin Mary who seems to be kissing the cheek of her son as he’s being placed into the tomb. This could also be referred to as an Entombment.

Dr. Harris: [2:47] Then a scene of the Resurrection, which is really the whole point, this idea of triumphing over death.

Dr. Zucker: [2:53] This radical change in the representation of Christ on the cross in just a very few decades is an indicator of a growing interest in representing a spiritual vision that humans can understand in a more direct way.

Dr. Harris: [3:05] That we can sympathize with, that we can, through prayer, imagine what Christ felt, and in that way, become closer to God.

[3:14] [music]

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "The Crucifixion, c. 1200 (from Christus triumphans to Christus patiens)," in Smarthistory, December 18, 2020, accessed July 13, 2024,