Museum-quality monumental sculpture of Saint Christopher
10th Tiberius Auction
Museum-quality monumental sculpture of St. Christopher
Height 190 cm
Numerous legends surround St. Christopher; the most popular of them comes from the well-known Legenda Aurea of the 13th century: the giant Christopher was given the task by a hermit of carrying people on his back across a dangerous raging river. One night he heard the voice of a child calling three times. When he finally carried the boy across the river, the load became heavier and heavier, and the water rose. He was almost afraid of drowning. Then, the child told him that he would carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. The child eventually submerged him and baptised him, after Christophorus recognised the child as Jesus Christ. It instructed the giant to plant his staff in the earth; this began to blossom and bear fruit. Christophorus is also one of the fourteen holy helpers, whose depictions already existed in the Alpine region in the second half of the 12th century.
Here, the moment is depicted in which Christophorus carries the infant Jesus across the river and the latter reveals his identity. This is clearly visible on the base plate; for no solid earth is depicted here, but roaring waves are shown. The water has already swollen up to the lower legs of the giant, who can only support himself on his staff. While he clutches the staff with his right hand, he holds the foot of the child he is carrying on his shoulders with his left hand. The child is depicted in a raised posture; with his right hand he shows the gesture of blessing, while he touches Christophorus’ hair with his left hand. The latter seems to react to the touch and turn in this direction. This is therefore an extremely intimate moment of communication between the saint and the infant Jesus, and an abbreviated narrative scene, which is expressed particularly well by the expressive faces of the figures.
Christophorus has an elongated face with a high forehead, large eyes with accentuated lids, a long, straight nose, and a trimmed full beard. His head is turned almost questioningly upwards and backwards to listen to the words of Jesus. The latter is shown with a high, bulging forehead, suggesting an elevated position. Large almond-shaped eyes, a small snub nose and a small pouty mouth with dimples characterise his oval face. The calm, almost majestic expression with its childlike charm testifies to the great skill of the carver.
The figures’ robes are also noteworthy. The tunics of both are similarly tied at the waist and have vertical, parallel folds. Playful accents such as the fold pressed flat at the base of Christophorus’ neck reveal an innovative approach in the carving. Furthermore, the giant’s cloak, loosely draped over the body, shows typical stylistic features of the so-called Soft or International Style around 1400. The deep yet gently falling bowl folds run diagonally downwards, while doughy borders fall away under the saint’s arms. The mantle is equally virtuosically draped over the saint’s right shoulder, on which the child kneels. Interestingly, the child has placed his bare foot on the other side of the shoulder, whereby this could emphasise the human side of Jesus.
The depicted moment of pausing and communicating is given a moving dynamic by the richly pleated drapery as well as by the slight rotation. A similarly conceived sculptural group from Ulm around 1470 is now in Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire (NT 514381). Sculptural groups of this kind are more common in the early 16th century, such as that by Heinrich Douvermann (1480-1543) from around 1525 in the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, or a group of figures by an anonymous carver from around 1500-25 in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (BK-NM-11175).
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