Saturday, August 13, 2016

Acolman: The Arma Christi relief

Acolman, the Augustinian rear cloister
San Agustín Acolman is the grandest 16th century monastery in the Valley of Mexico, renowned for its superb architecture, sculpture and murals. The variety of carved crosses at Acolman comprises a virtual compendium of the imagery and styles to be found in the region.   
   Twelve intriguing reliefs are emblazoned above the lower arcades in the larger rear cloister at Acolman. Although they reveal a wide variation in the quality and styles of the carving, all are distinguished by their boldness of execution. They illustrate a number of themes, together with Augustinian insignia, but several show various representations of the cross.
Here we focus on one relief in particular, the “shield” cross.

The Shield Cross
Framed by a curved escutcheon and expertly modeled in the round, this is the most complex, the most intricately carved and the most interesting of the cloister medallions.
   The relief portrays a cross emerging from a tomb, surrounded by a panoply of the Arma Christi, or objects associated with the Passion, suggesting a variant of the Mass of St Gregory. 
 While this is a fairly common depiction, the various objects are artfully arrayed around the cross in a compact but compelling design—the crown of thorns draped around the neck, the spear and hyssop at an angle against the cross, with the other implements harmoniously fitted into the interstices. One unusual detail is Christ’s rumpled tunic casually draped over the tomb opening. 
   Although no Wounds are shown, two inclined heads protrude below the arms. On the right, the bearded and turbaned head probably portrays Caiphas, the high priest and prosecutor of Christ.
   Opposite, an ambiguous figure wearing net like headgear spits or utters an imprecation towards the cross, possibly representing a Roman soldier or the “spitting” Jew of biblical lore.

text ©2016 Richard D. Perry
please review our earlier posts on Mexican crosses: AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupoTemimilcingo

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