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2004 | 17 |

Article title

Functions of the Figure of Christ in the Poor Clare Convent in Cracow


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The Poor Clare convent in Cracow features a wooden polychrome figure of Christ from the third quarter of the fourteenth century. Christ is shown standing, clad in a perizonium, and raising the right hand in a gesture of bestowing a blessing. The unusual features of the figure are its movable arms and an opening in the back, linked with the wound in the side. The present-day function of the sculpture is undoubtedly secondary, and was probably initiated during the seventeenth century. The object is used in Good Thursday rituals when during a ceremonial meal commemorating the Last Supper the dressed sculptured figure stands next to a table in the rectory and then is carried to the oratorium. The theme of the titular figure remains controversial since it possesses both the features of the Man of Sorrows (the copiously bleeding wound, apparel limited to the perizonium) and the Resurrected Christ (the right hand raised in a blessing, the left adapted for the purpose of holding a banner). Apparently, by combining elements of two iconographic motifs the figure originally fulfilled at least two functions. Its use could have been altered by dressing the sculpture and placing a banner into its hand. The moving arms have been linked by researchers with the liturgical theatre; it was presumed that the figure was a 'sui generis' marionette blessing the faithful. Taking into consideration the manner in which the arms are installed this assumption appears to be improbable. The movable arms could have made it easier to dress the figure, especially if it was clothed in a long-sleeved costume (during the fourteenth century the Resurrected Christ was frequently depicted wearing a tunic). In known examples of fourteenth-century figures this is precisely the part played by movable arms. A successive problem calling for an explanation is the function of the aperture. Comparative material justifies the supposition that initially it was used for storing the Eucharist or holy relics. This was the function assigned to hollows found in certain figures of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ or Christ in the Sepulchre; the openings made it possible to see the Host or the relic. The narrow duct linking the opening with the wound in the side of the Cracow figure could not have fulfilled such a function. It is most probable, therefore, that at a certain moment its usage was changed, and that it contained a simple mechanism making it possible to show a bleeding wound; 'weeping' and 'bleeding' figures from the modern age confirm this conjecture.





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  • P. Migasiewicz, address not given, contact the journal editor


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Publication order reference


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