Memorialising and Witnessing Christ’s Passion — New Perspectives on the 14th-Century Polychrome Wood Crucifix in Marttila, Finland
This article presents an investigation of a 14th-century polychrome wood crucifix from the Marttila Church (Sankt Mårtens in Swedish), and other stylistically closely related crucifixes in the medieval diocese of Turku (Åbo), Finland. The article discusses the function of the polychromy in illustrating Christ’s Passion and communicating its meaning to viewers. A technical analysis of the Marttila crucifix showed that the original polychromy was of a high technical and artistic standard. The examination also established a firm basis for further iconographical and comparative style analyses. The main argument is that the polychromy strengthens the sculpture’s capacity to aid in mnemonic reflection and affective contemplation. It is also argued that the purchase of crucifixes with similar kinds of polychromies for other parish churches in the region may reflect a change in devotional and ritual practices, and possibly even St. Birgitta’s (Birgitta Birgersdotter, 1302/1303–1373) personal influence in the diocese during the 1340s. This study provides new insights into the significance of polychromy for iconographical analyses, even if preserved in a fragmented form. Thus, the article contributes to the understanding of the visual tradition of depicting the crucified Christ in the Late Middle Ages.