A Carving of Christ

An arresting object of religious significance came to light recently during the process of examining our icon collection. The piece was a centuries-old sculptured figure, about 135 centimetres high, of Christ crucified. It was carved from a section of European oak by an unknown artist.

The timber’s condition was of concern due to the activity of borer and some deterioration from exposure to the elements over untold years. This is because of its probable siting as a wayside shrine, such as were evident prior to the wars outside villages across France and Belgium.

The work has now been professionally treated and coated with wax for preservation. Apart from the element of faith that inspired the work, which was of great interest to the University’s Art Curator, Caroline Field, the inherent quality of the piece as an artistic carving is also noteworthy.

By its very crudity and unembellished simplicity as a work of devotional sculpture, it makes a compelling impact in the embodied tension within the form. The helpless body is sculpted in one piece, with arms both separated and attached.

An interesting question emerges as to why the features of Christ’s face have become so weathered through exposure to wind, rain and snow over its long life. A protective shrine canopy that once accompanied the work may well have deteriorated or collapsed over the course of time.

When originally acquired by Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Greg Craven and Father Anthony, Director of Mission and Identity, in February 2016, the sculpture was affixed to a rough-hewn cross of new wood. This has since been discarded to enable the work to be examined in its original state.

It is now mounted in all its spiritual and artistic wonder in the Philippa Brazil Lecture Theatre, St Patrick’s Campus, Melbourne.

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