Steatite Plaque with Crucifixion Scene
Late Byzantine, 1250 – 1299
Steatite, gold; H. 59.00mm, W. 46.50mm
The figures of the Virgin Mary and St John raise their right hands to their faces in a gesture of mourning. A scratched inscription on the cross arm identifies Christ. The three figures appear barely to be contained by the borders and Christ's halo actually breaks the frame, creating a sense of dramatic tension. The composition is neatly divided by the 'T' shape of the figure of the crucified Christ. The symmetry, however, is broken by His body and head which slump to the side and by Mary, who reaches out her left hand to touch Christ's body. This tender gesture does not appear on any other Crucifixion scene and lends a personal immediacy to the standard grouping of this depiction. The plaque was originally gilded in areas, but, like the surface of the carving, this has been worn down. The faces are polished smooth and the edge of the piece is broken away in areas. Steatite is easy to carve and has a naturally smooth, soapy surface, making it pleasant to handle. Many carvings in steatite were produced in the tenth to thirteenth centuries for use as devotional amulets.