This sculpted crown of thorns represents the importance that Christ’s Passion took on when the Spanish transmitted the story to the New World. Yet, as is often the case with cultural confrontation, the Christian episode of the crowning was thoughtfully reimagined when received by local peoples. By the time of the creation of this work in the mid-eighteenth century, Hispanic American society was already highly pluralistic, bringing many European traditions together with native cultural currents. As such, we find the tradition of Christ’s crown of thorns developed in a richly unique way.
The Viceroyalty of Peru had a strong tradition of metalwork, perhaps due to the abundance of gold and silver in the region. The highly skilled metalsmith who made this crown crafted it out of gold repoussé. He worked the beaten gold into four parallel cords, which intertwine to form braided volutes that he then embellished with florets and flame-shaped leaves. This cylindrical structure was then covered with sharply projected thorns, while emeralds, topaz, and other precious stones adorn its glimmering surface.
An 1817 inventory of the Cathedral of Arequipa includes a description of this crown and indicates that it once accompanied an image of the Christ of Charity (Señor de la Caridad), a figure particularly venerated in this community (Esternas Martín 2006: 217). Similar objects have been located in Arequipa’s Mercedarian monastery and the Cathedral of Cuzco. Such crowns are notable for their striking inclusion of the spiky thorns that serve as a dramatic reminder of Christ’s suffering, and even more specifically to the blood that poured forth from his open wounds. Such forms reinforced Counter Reformation teachings in which the Church emphasized celebrations of Corpus Christi, and at times encouraged elaborate processions celebrating the presence of Christ’s blood in the Holy Eucharist.
The contrast of the jagged thorns with the brilliant jewels further suggests something of the complexity of Christ’s crucifixion, which for Christians is at once gory, but also magnificent.
Esternas Martín, Cristina. 2006. ‘Silver and Silverwork, Wealth and Art in Viceregal America’, in The Arts in Latin America: 1492–1820 (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art), pp. 178–189; cat. no. III-28, p. 217
_____. 2004. ‘Acculturation and Innovation in Peruvian Viceregal Silverwork’, in The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork: 1530–1830, ed. by Elena Phipps, et al (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 59–71; cat. no. 91, p. 278
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 29and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the whole battalion. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him. 18And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. 2And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; 3they came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.