The Christ of St Domenico

The wooden sculpture of Christ (4.87 x 3.70 m. 180 Kg.) dating to the mid XIV century

Since 1812 this unusual wooden sculpture of the Christ in Cross has been preserved in the apse of the Sanctuary of S. Domenico creating a focal point in the physical space. Measuring 4.87m by 3.50m the figure dominates the vast Domenican hall. The cross has the form of a knotted trunk with gently curving arms, at its top a pelican holds a vermillion scroll which relates, in a Lombard script, the drama of the sacrifice of Christ. There are many stories related to the origins of the cross, many claiming that it was washed up on the shores of the island of San Domenico in Chioggia.The story accepted since 1478 is that is was washed ashore near the bridge os San Domenico after a shipwreck. Tradition however has it that the cross comes from Constantinople and was transferred here to escape Turkish iconoclasts. Documentation affirms its presence in the Dominican church since 1440.
It is certainly one of the most suggestive and mysterious icons of the city and the dearest to the people and above all the fishermen of Chioggia. Singular and unsettling is the contrast between the formal perfection of the reclined head of the suffering Christ and the rough structure of the body, extremely stylised and without accurate proportions. Critics apportion the tormented suffering expressed on the face to the Rhine School whilst the summary and skeletal treatment of the body to the Strasbourg School.
The symbolism of the cross alludes to the tree of life whereas, paradoxically, it is actually supporting the body of a man condemned to death. A twofold problem is presented when observed from below, seen from the right the face manifests itself as that of Christ suffering, in agony, his eyes half closed in pain. From the left he appears relieved in the repose of death.


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