The Crucifixion

William Blake Richmond1891/1904

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Opaque glass mosaic, designed by William Blake Richmond, executed by Messrs Powell of Whitefriars, completed by 1904

The Passion and Resurrection of Christ are the theme of the four mosaics filling the surfaces of the lower squinches supporting the dome above. Throughout Christianity the crucifixion in particular was given visual expression with changing emphasises depending on historic period and Christian denomination. Mosaics of this theme can be found from early Christian times onwards. The iconography of this particular version does include elements from the biblical description of the crucifixion, such as the female witnesses. Nonetheless, the image is closer to a subject known as the Tree of Life, which emphasises the presence of life even in the moment of Christ’s death. Several Byzantine and medieval mosaic versions that Richmond might have taken as inspiration are known. From the cross spring stylised branches with flowers, which can be compared to those depicted on the mosaic of The Fall of Man (mosaic no. 6392), thus giving visual expression to the theological link of the two. This also allows to interpret the two kneeling figures as Adam and Eve.

Brief description: Christ on the cross from which the branches of the tree of life sprout to fill the entire background of the quarter-dome, to his left the kneeling Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and St John; to his right the two Marys and, sitting on the ground, two kneeling figures; the mosaic clearly divided in horizontal registers: water at the base, spreading from the foot of the cross, above a green meadow with flowers which serves as ground for the figures, bundles of wheat; the dark blue sky almost completely obscured by the ornamental branches of the tree of life; at the top of the quarter-dome a semi-circle in rainbow colours indicating the sun with rays

Related quotes: The crucifixion is described in all canonical gospels. St Paul also touches upon the subject in his epistles to the Corinthians, including the following:

1 Corinthians 15:35-37: “But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain?” (NSRV)

Related work elsewhere: Mosaic floor, 12th century, Otranto Cathedral, Italy; Apse mosaic, 1130s, San Clemente, Rome, Italy; The Tree of Life, glass mosaic, designed by Edward Burne-Jones, made by the Venice and Murano Glass Company, Rome, The Anglican-Episcopal Church of St Paul’s Within the Walls (see Barr 2008, 72-73; watercolour of this composition museum no. 584-1898; Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Literature and references: Zech 2015, pp. 44-45 ill.

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  • Title: The Crucifixion
  • Creator: Sir William Blake Richmond
  • Date Created: 1891/1904
  • Physical Location: St Paul's Cathedral Quarter dome