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Image © Hildesheim, St Godehard

THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS
Matthew 27:57-59; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53

Joseph of Arimathea stands with his back to the cross, supporting the limp form of the dead Christ. His arms have been detached from the cross and are being tenderly held by Mary and John, The cross is cut from a living tree, the lignum vitae type. A small figure at the bottom removes a nail from Christ’s foot. A woman and man flank Mary and John. They are possibly one of the Three Maries and Nicodemus. Two ministering angels crouch above. The label, on which the letters INRI should be inscribed, is blank. This is another example (like Mary’s book at the Annunciation, p19) where lettering has been overlooked in the section of the miniatures.

The normal arrangement for the Descent from the Cross shows one of Christ’s arms still attached above his head, and Mary holding the other arm lower down, giving the scene a strongly diagonal composition. In the St Albans Psalter it is almost symmetrical, with Mary and John balancing each other statically as they normally do in a Crucifixion. This arrangement appears in Armenian manuscripts and is also found in Italy , as in the wood carving at Volterra (AP, 70, pl 120-121).

The St Albans Psalter is exceptional in omitting the Crucifixion altogether but this composition serves as its highly charged emotional substitute. The reader was probably supposed to look up at this stage and contemplate a crucifix sculpture. Romanesque murals of the Passion at Ickleton (Cambridgeshire, not far from Huntingdon) and Kempley (Gloucestershire) also show this mixture of painting and scuplture, leaving a gap in the picture cycle for contemplating the Rood (Park, 1987 , 159 and 1991, 31)


Quire 3.
Thread or stitch holes for protective curtain



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