My research on Pestkreuzen (so-called "plague crosses") has led me
(following the lead of others more erudite than myself) to conclude that
this particular form of Crucifixion imagery did not develop as a result of
the plague (the mid-14th century epidemic in particular). Rather, this
imagery appears to stem from the rising preoccupation with the Passion, as
seen in the increasingly elaborate descriptions of the torments of Christ,
as recorded already in the 13th c writings of Pseudo-Bernard and
Pseudo-Anselm. This became even more common in 14th century accounts, such
as the Passion Tract of Heinrich of St. Gall and Ludolph of Saxony's Vita
Christi. These texts, intended to inspire an increasingly emotional,
subjective meditative experience, expound in great detail upon Christ's
suffering. Of particular note here is the link to Isaiah 53:4, describing
"the man of sorrows....thought as it were a leper." These late medieval
authors interpolated this passage into accounts of Christ's Passion, so that
Christ is beaten and tormented to the point of appearing leprous ("quasi
leprosus"). Curiously, this leprous imagery appears to have manifested
itself in such a way as to approximate the appearance of plague victims.
Possibly this aspect was directly inspired by contemporary firsthand
experience. (I would be interested in anyone's comments on the relationship
of lepers and plague victims in late medieval thinking and/or medical
Examples of the pestkreuz type can be found in Santa maria im Kapitol,
Cologne (dated 1304); the Schnutgen museum, Cologne (c. 1370 from Borken in
Westphalia); San Giorgio dei Teutonici, Pisa (c. 1315?), etc.
Additional influence of this image type can be seen in the writings of St.
Bridget of Sweden (Revelations, Book 4).
Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece might therefore be seen as a late
manifestation of this image-type.
Some useful references:
K. Ruh, ed., Der Passionstraktat des heinrich von St. Gallen, Thayngen, 1940.
M. von Alemann-Schwarz, Cruzifixus dolorosus. Beitrage zur Polychromie und
Ikonographie der rheinischen Gabelkruzifixe, Ph.D. dissertation, Bonn, 1973.
Gexa de Francovich, "L'Origine e la Diffusione del Crocofisso Gotico
Doloroso", Kunstgeschichtliches Jahrbuch der Biblioteca Hertziana, 2, 1938,
James H. Marrow, Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late
Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. A Study of the Transformation of Sacred
Metaphor into Descriptive Narrative, Kortrijk: Van Ghemmert Publishing, 1979.
Fried Muhlberg, "Crucifixus Dolorosus. Uber Bedeutung und Herkunft des
gotischen Gabelkruzifixus", Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 22, 1960, 69-86.
F. Witt, "Mystik und Kreuzesbild un 1300", Zeitschrift fur christliche
Kunst, 33, 1920, 117-124.
(please forgive the fact that I cannot insert umlauts into the text here...)
I hope that this is at least somewhat of use to you and your student.
Scott B. Montgomery
School of Visual Arts
University of North Texas
On Tue, 8 Dec 1998 10:09:52 EST5EDT Frans VanLiere
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Dear listmembers,
> This is a bibliographic request for a student of mine.
> In a lecture I mentioned the changing image of Christ under the
> influence of the Black Death (Gabelkreuz, Isenheim
> altarpiece, etc.) I got this idea (and the slides I used) years ago
> from a book by P. Hinz, Deus homo.
> Now a student wants to write a paper on this topic, and asked me for
> more bibliographic references, preferably in English. (To commend
> this student: she knows Latin !). I could not answer this question
> off hand, but perhaps one of you could ?
> Thanks very much in advance,
> Frans van Liere
> Calvin College
> 3201 Burton Street SE
> Grand Rapids MI 49546
> tel. (616) 957-6535