Crown of Thorns by Marcos del Carpio [attrib.]

Marcos del Carpio [attrib.]

Crown of Thorns, c.1760, Gold, repoussé, cast, and chased with emeralds, a topaz and other precious stones, 8.7 x 25.9 cm, Cabildo Metropolitano de Arequipa, Peru, Photo: Daniel Giannoni, Courtesy of Cabildo Metropolitano de Arequipa, Peru

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Thorns and Jewels

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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. 

 

References

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. 178189; 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. 5971; cat. no. 91, p. 278


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