In the previous posting we looked at an icon of the Приведение ко Кресту — the “Bringing to the Cross.”
Here is another icon, this time Greek, dating to about 1200. It too is a “Bringing to the Cross” type:
Like the Russian examples, it depicts the bound Jesus being led to the cross. Beside him are soldiers and an attendant holding the rope. At right is a pharisee, John the Theologian (the disciple John), and Mary. But notice the little fellow at lower right, still busy hammering in a wedge to support the cross in place. he is a link to the next type we shall examine.
It is a Russian icon from near the end of the 1400s — another uncommon type — the Утверждение Креста / Utverzhdenie Kresta). Utverzhdenie is a word with a wide range of meanings, including “affirmation” and “approval.” In biblical use it tends to mean “ground” or “position.” For the sake of clarity here, it is perhaps best to call the type simply the “Placing of the Cross.” This icon was originally in the iconostasis of the Dormition Cathedral of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in northern Russia.
Note all the little holes in the surface, indications that the icon was once covered with a basma — an early form of metal cover.
It depicts the hill of Golgotha. At right is a gathering of Jewish figures, and in the center two workmen are busy installing the cross on which Jesus is to be crucified. There is also the outline of another figure at far left no longer visible.
Now the significance of all this for students of iconography is that these images make clear the distinction between traditional Eastern Orthodox and modern Western notions of how Jesus was crucified. You have perhaps seen one or another biblical movie in which Jesus is nailed to a cross lying on the ground, which is then raised with Jesus on it. But in Eastern Orthodoxy (and in some early western European art and literature), Jesus climbs up onto the already erected cross, and then is nailed to it. It is that previously erected cross we see in the “Placing of the Cross” type.
We should also note that in post-Medieval western European images of the crucifixion, the feet of Jesus are often nailed with a single nail — one foot behind the other. This is something that began to appear in the 13th century. But in Eastern Orthodoxy, there are two “feet” nails — one for each foot, and an additional two nails — one for each hand, making four nails in all that were used, unlike the three nails often found in later western European art. If you look at the Greek image above, you can clearly see the four nails temporarily stuck into the footboard, waiting to be used.