24 September 2008

Nonantola


Gesture, Posture, and Activity

If there's one thing students are usually interested in it is their GPA

This is the tympaneum from the abbey church in Nonantola. Despite being located in a rather modest town and a bit off of the beaten track, this was an important monastery at the time of the Investure Crisis. This relief was carved by the workshop of Wiligemo (Wiligemus). It depicts the more traditional theme of Christ in judgment.
The gesture of note is the conferring of blessing. One can see this gesture in many instances of early Christian art, particularly in the mosaics of Ravenna. Compare this to the classic Roman gesture and we see some similarity. What is fascinating to this reader is its similarity to the Buddhist tradition. This is not to say the gestures themselves are similar but rather that meaning can be derived from hand position and movement.
The posture is also derived from antiquity. Consider the one of the most famous images of an enthroned deity - the stele of Hammurabi. The God Shamash confers upon Hammurabi, the right to rule by giving him the a scepter and length of rope. It is important to recognize that Shamash is seated, he does not stand to extend this gift, rather Hammurabi must reach for it. The position of authority does not necessary mean one stands over the subject. (Although my colleagues concerned with the gaze would note that Hammurabi does not avert his eyes, rather stares Shamash down.)
The activity is defined by the previous two factors - the Christ figure by virtue of his gesture and posture - is establishing his position of sanctity and authority. After all, you do not receive a blessing from the profane nor from those who are your inferior.

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