Gerokreuz

Gero cross,” one of the most important pieces of medieval European art we can still look at today.

In the 900’s, Cologne’s Archbishop Gero traveled to sophisticated Istanbul, then Constantinopel and the capital of the Roman empire, to bring back a bride for the Ottonian heir to the Holy Roman Empire. Her name was Theophanu and she was the Byzantine emperor’s niece. Many artists accompanied the twelve-year-old bride back to central Europe, which was living rather quietly at the time.

Probably carved during the reign of Otto II and Theophanu, the large crucifix was called Gero’s after being placed over his sarcophagus. It’s considered a boundary artwork on the threshold between the interesting but comic book-like figures of the early Middle Ages and the more human depictions of later centuries; we have managed to recover so few similar images from that time and place though, making this relic especially unique and difficult to compare. The placement of the Gero cross and other religiously important artworks indoors and smaller churches outdoors at specific points on circles that are centerpointed at the main altar in the Cologne cathedral and have varying radii can be interpreted from mentions in texts, other surviving art and medieval theologians’ well-known obsessions with numbers and hierarchies.

The large wooden figure of Jesus on the Gero cross is a thousand years old, having survived major fires and e.g. rococo fashion trends. That’s a bit miraculous.

(GAY roe   CROY ts.)

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