A masterpiece of Romanesque art, this altar cross with some ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions is the vehicle for a unique iconographical program. The front displays typological scenes alluding to the Cross as the Tree of Life. The central medallions with Moses and the Brazen Serpent prefigure the Crucifixion. The terminals depict, the Deposition and Lamentation on the right, the Women at the Sepulcher and the Resurrection on the left, and the Ascension at the top. Below this last, Caiaphas and Pilate dispute the title to be assigned Christ in the inscription on the cross. Adam and Eve cling to the base of the cross, looking up at the figure of Christ, now missing. The richness of subjects, complexity of forms, and intellectual character suggest that the cross originated in a major center of learning; the English abbey of Bury St. Edmunds has often been suggested.


  • Title: The Cloisters Cross
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 12th century
  • Provenance: Ante Topic-Mimara , Zurich (sold 1963)
  • Physical Dimensions: w362 x h575 cm
  • Inscription: FRONT: INSCRIPTIONS A. (central medallion) -------------------------------------------- On Scroll of Moses, Center: SIC ERIT VITA TVA PENDENS ANE N CREDES VITE TVE (Et erit vita tua quasi pendens ante te...et non credes vite tue, Vulgate, Deuteronomy 28:66, trans.: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee: and thou...shalt have none assurance of thy life, King James Bible) On Scroll, upper left: SICUT MOYSES EXALTAVIT SERPENTE T DESERTO ITA E O F K (et sicut Moyses exaltavit serpente in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium Hominis, Vulgate,John 3:14; trans: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, King James Bible.) On Scroll, lower left: ...NES: PPKE.TE...V.PHIBENT (Omnes Prophetae Testimonium Perhibent, Vulgate, Acts 10:43; trans.: To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins., King James Bible) scroll of reclining figure, top center: QUARE FUTURU ES VELUT VIR VAGS OFTIS QUI NON POTEST SALVAR (Quare futurus es velut vir vagus ut fortis qui non potest salvare? Vulgate, Jeremiah 14:9; trans.: Why wilt thou be as a wandering man, as a might man that can not save? Douay version) scroll of figure, lower right: QUARE: RUBRU E IDVMENTU TUV _ VESTIMA T SIC C T (Quare ergo rubrum est inducentum tuum; et vestmenta tua sicut calcantium in torculari? Vulgate, Isaiah 63:2; trans.: Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress: Douay version) B. (Right Terminal Plaque) --------------------------------------------- On scroll at base of plaque: PLANGENT EUM QUASI UNIGENITU (Et plangent eum plancti quasi...unigentum., Vulgate, Zacharias 12:10; trans.: ...and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, King James Bible) C. (Bottom Terminal Plaque) ----------------------------------------------- On band across top: PPhETTZA (Prophetae et Testimonium Zacharias; refers to Zechariah 12:10, And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced... King James Bible. This prefigures John 19:37, They shall look on him whom they pierced, King James Bible) E. (Left Terminal Plaque) ----------------------------------------- On Scroll of angel: QUERITIS NAZ IKM: RENUM CRUCIFL(X?) (Queritis Iesum Nazarenum crucifixum, Vulgate, Mark 16:6; trans.: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified King James Bible) F. (Top Piece) ----------------------------- On scroll of angel to left: VIRI GALILEI QD: STAIS.ASPICIENTES:INCELV (Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes in coelum? , Vulgate, Acts 1:11; trans.: Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? King James Bible) On scroll of angel to right: SIC: VEN N3: Q; MADMODV: VISIST ([Hic Iesus qui assumptus est a vobis in caelum], sic veniet quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in caelum, Vulgate, Acts 1:11; trans.: This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven, King James Bible) On scroll of High Priest, left: NOLI:SCIBE:REX.IV--.S.QA:DIX:REX:SV:IVD (Noli scribere, Rex Judaeorum: sed quia ipse dixit; Rex Sum Judaeorum, Vulgate, John 19:21; trans.: Write not, The King of Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews, King James Bible) On scroll of pilate, right: Q.O:SCRIPSI:SCR-PSE: (Quod scripsi scripsi, Vulgate, John 19:22; trans; What I have written, I have written, King James Bible) (on cross title, continued) I-C: NI:...AREN-.REX.-FESSOR Latin, (translit.: Jesus Nazarenus Rex Confessorum) (on cross title, hand of God emerging from shell [corners of titulus cut off in ancient time]) ...IC: [BACKWARDS C]-AZAPH[BACKWARDS C] YC...AHWC:HXW[BACKWARDS C]...NICCO[BACKWARDS C] (translation: Jesus of Nazarus, King, Confessor) (on front of cross stem) TERRA TREMIT: MORS: VICTA: GEMIT: SURGENE: SEPULTO:VITA. CLUIT: SyNAGOGA:RUIT:O-LIMINE:STULT... (trans.: Earth shakes, death is conquerered and bewails, from the opening sepulchre life surges forth, synagogue collapses after vain effort) Front: Large Inscription The hexameter on the front of the cross stem refers to the events that took place at the exact moment Christ died.
  • Culture: English
  • Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1963
  • Type: Ivories
  • External Link: MMA
  • Medium: Walrus ivory

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps