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19th C. Russian Enameled Brass Three-Bar Cross

Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 19th century CE. A well-aged, cast-brass, three-bar cross with the crucified Christ taking central place with smaller scenes depicting his life surrounding him in low relief creating the detailed, ornate effect that is so common to Orthodox religious art. The cross has twin panels hanging down from the central bar of the cross and depict the Virgin Mary and three saints, and five square scenes from Christ's life placed around the upper bar flanked by six symbols of the of the Holy Spirit. Areas of inlaid cobalt blue and opaque white enamel bring forth the background and give depth to the cross. Size: 3.75" W x 7.875" H (9.5 cm x 20 cm).

The three-barred cross is the most symbolic and common shape in the Orthodox Church. The short topmost bar represents the sign reading "This is the King of the Jews" from Luke 23:38 that was nailed to the top of Christ's cross; the short bottom-most bar represents the foot rest on Christ's cross. This is depicted as slanted because it is believed that, in Christ's final moments, he kicked it out of place. The right-side points upward to Heaven and the left side points downward to Hell. Here the uppermost bar contains a scene from heaven; the lower bar a scene on earth. At the bottom of the cross is a skull which represents the skull of Adam, and below his feet are four letters meaning, "The place of the skull has become Paradise," to remind us that Adam lost Paradise through forbidden knowledge, and that Christ will return us to it.

Condition: Slight bending to overall form, minor nicks to arms, relief details, and verso, with losses and fading to inlaid enamel details, and softening to some finer details, otherwise intact and very good. Light earthen deposits and nice patina throughout.

Provenance: private Orange County, California, USA collection

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