Saturday, 29 September 2012

Recycling: Nineteenth Century style!

I would like to show you an unusual crucifix that hangs on our wall.  Made in the Nineteenth Century, it was purchased in Austria.  

We were told it was made at a monastery - which may or may not be true, although I don’t see why not.  When purchased the whole thing was coated in a thickish layer of old dust (the sort of dust that has been there so long that it has 'set') and required some careful cleaning.

Here it is:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
 As you can see, from a distance it appears to be a fairly usual religious devotional object, with somewhat crude trefoils on each of the points.

But take a closer look and what you find is most unusual.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

The figure of Our Lord is of a fairly standard design common in the 'Victorian' period.   It is made of that porcelain we call parian ware.  The beauty of this product was that you could pour it into moulds as you would with wax.  This meant that it was easy to mass produce solid items such as this Crucified Christ. 

It is the crucifix itself however that is interesting - from an artistic point of view.  The trefoils have been made separately and nailed onto a form.  The whole is made from many pieces of wood that have been carefully nicked along the edges by hand:

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
The pieces have then been laid in such a way that they rise up in ridges, each one having been carefully cut and shaped so as to fit perfectly atop the one beneath, exposing layer upon layer of sculptured edging.  The finished item has then been painted with a brown stain.

When you turn the Crucifix over you find another interesting thing:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
As you can see, the entire piece appears to have been made out of recycled wooded boxes.  The spine of the Crucifix is made out of a box lid that has been cut down the middle.
It reads: 'Innominata' and underneath is printed ‘Littera G’.  Innominata is Italian for the word ‘unknown’ or so I believe, and this is similar to our English word ‘innominate’ or ‘nameless’.
(I am not the best of photographers but I have tried to show you what the lid would have looked like in one piece.)
I wonder what this box contained.  I was thinking at first that it might have been cigars because of the oblong shape of the lid but really it could have been anything.  Was Innominata a company or a product?  Was Littera G. actually 'the Letter G' or someone's name as in Jones F?

And this isn't all:

A part of the crucifix arm (made of a different type of wood) reads: ‘Colorado 100’ and ‘Colorado Claro 100’.  Colorado is Spanish for ‘coloured red’ and ‘claro’ means ‘clear. If this is the correct meaning for these words then I wonder what arrived in that box that was coloured red and labelled in Spanish?
I have no idea but it is interesting to speculate.
This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
A box presumably from Italy, and a box presumably from Spain, end up in an Austrian Monastery and are recycled by someone who saw them and thought: "I could make a jolly nice Crucifix out of those!"

Over one hundred years later, and that same Crucifix (having survived two World Wars and whatever else might have happened along the way) is purchased by yours truly and taken to Germany; with its ultimate destination (for this leg of its journey) being the marvellous city of Melbourne.

And then . . . ?


  1. Hello, Kirk,

    What an interesting story! I could see how your crucifix might have been made from wine crates that were shipped to a monastery, though I always think of monks making their own wine.

    Are you familiar with what Americans call "tramp art?" It's the art that was made by early 20th-century outsider and itinerant artists, and the layers of notching seen on your crcifix was typical of it.

  2. Dear Mark,
    Now that is an interesting thought. An itinerant artist: I like that idea. Perhaps he or she made it in return for some board and lodging that the monastery gave them . . . as a way of repaying a kindness. It is a very nice thought.
    Thank you,

  3. Dear Kirk - I would tend to side with the red wine crate.
    It reminds me of pieces created by soldiers during WWI called trench art made out of old bullets and bits of metal, and the bone work done by the Napoleonic prisoners of war made out of the bones from leftover meals.
    May be it was made by an artisan who had become a monk and used anything that was to hand to make a work of special significance to him.

  4. Dear Rosemary,

    Wine crates would seem an obvious choice to me too but not being an expert in any way when it comes to wine I don't know for sure. The crucifix without the figure itself is quite heavy but I am not sure what sort of wood has been used and if this is the same wood used for wine crates.

    I've seen some of that bone work from the Napoleonic Prisoners of War. Some of it is very intricate and occasionally comes up for sale at auction houses.

    I like your suggestion that it might have been made by an artisan turned monk.
    It looks as though it is going to be a glorious Sunday here, I hope you are experiencing the same in your part of the world!

  5. Hello Kirk:
    This we find utterly fascinating. Our immediate thought, revised as we read further, was that the entire crucifix was possibly made by Prisoners of War, even from the Napoleonic Wars, but this does seem very unlikely when one considers the addition of the very Victorian Parian Ware image of the Crucified Christ. Whatever, it is most intriguing and a very splendid possession to call one's own.

    Once, interested in religious artefacts, we had the idea to build a chapel in our Herefordshire garden but having got as far as the foundations, the whole project escalated in price and with some reluctance we abandoned it.

  6. Dear Jane and Lance,
    It 'could' have been Napoleonic and the figure of Our Lord added later. I guess the truth will only out if we know a little more about the boxes it was made from but in the meantime I like the various possibilities that are emerging.

    What has interested me about the way this crucifix has been made is the slight link it has with Faisal's lovely post the other day. Reality (the object) leading to creativity: Our ideas on who made it and when and how and what their background was.

    We used to know some people near Domfront and they had a chapel on their property which they furnished with beautiful antique ecclesiastical furniture including a charming organ. I think the idea of a chapel its a charming one. I wonder whether AGA might agree to us having a small one when we eventually build.

    1. Yes, we certainly agree with the link which you make here with Faisal's recent very thought provoking post.

      Now we are consumed with envy not only on account of the people who you knew near Domfront with their own private chapel, but the thought that you and AGA may eventually build your own. Deep sigh!!

    2. If a chapel ever gets built we will be sure to invite you to the grande opening!

  7. Dear Kirk,
    What a fascinating crucifix.... So much history to be discovered in just one object. I have to add one more vote to Mark's idea that it may be related to American Tramp Art-- the layered carving, color and stain on the crucifix is identical to many pieces I've seen, from picture and mirror frames, to boxes, etc. But how an American outsider artist would have ended up near Austria, with the parian ware figure--what a mystery, and what a wonderful object to accompany you on your journeys!

    1. Dear Erika,
      I think that I am coming around to that way of thinking as well. I just looked at this website and found a crucifix made in Belgium which is rather similar. So I guess that ramps the world over were involved in the same sort of work. Very Interesting.
      Bye for now
      Thank you very much for becoming my tenth follower: I am now in double digits!

  8. Hello Kirk, In American that certainly would be labeled "tramp art" or one of its variants (hobo art, prison art, etc). The idea is appealing that tramps would whittle away at this while waiting for the next train to hop, then leave these as grateful tokens to some generous farm-wife who gave them a hand-out, but don't forget that was also the era of simple home crafts, and in this case the necessity for adding the commercially-produced Christ would augur against this being an impromptu project.

    I'm not 100% sure of the scale or thickness here, but I agree with you that the material does look like cigar box wood, especially the way it was pieced to form the long back of the cross. Wooden cigar boxes were extremely available, and were usually made of soft, easily-carved woods.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Dear Parnassus,
      When I first looked at the back I thought 'cigar boxes' but then thought 'but I don't think that they smoked cigars in monasteries'.
      However if this is 'tramp art' then the boxes could have been picked up anywhere in the person's travels. It is all rather interesting and since sharing this object on my blog I have a whole new view of it.
      Bye for now

  9. Hello, Kirk ~ What an unusual crucifix! I immediately thought of tramp art as stated by Mark and Parnassus. The refined parian figure of Christ seems like an odd pairing with the folksy tramp art piece. But that's what makes it interesting and unique. Wonderful to find you, Kirk. Welcome to the blog world! And many thanks for your visit.
    Cheers from DC,

  10. Dear Loi,
    Thank you for your kind comments. When I saw this Crucifix I was drawn to it because of its beauty, the contrast between the startling white of Christ and dark brown of the Cross, as well as by its devotional aspect, but having discussed it through the medium of my blog I find that I have gained some possible insight into its origins which, as you say, makes it more unique!