Carved crozier head

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Origin
Northern France or Flanders
Period
14th century
Material
Fruitwood
Dimensions
19 cm
Literature

P. Williamson & G. Davies, Medieval Ivory Carvings 1200-1550 part I, Londen 2014, p. 413.

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Description

This rare 14th-century carved fruitwood finial to a crozier depicts the Adoration of the Magi. Similar crozier heads are mostly made of ivory. The centre of the grooved curl shows the adoration of the baby Jesus by the three wise men from the East. These men followed the star to Bethlehem to find the holy child and offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Western art tradition, the wise men or astrologers are depicted as three kings, and are given the names 'Melchior', 'Balthazar' and 'Caspar'. Mary, seated on a throne decorated with trefoils, has the standing Christ on her lap and holds him by his legs. She wears a crown on her long, wavy hair. Above the head of Christ, in the inner curl, is the bright star that the kings followed. One of the kings kneels before baby Jesus and offers him his gift. The second king stands upright and looks at the star above the child. The kneeling king is wearing a crown and what appears to be a sword on his decorated belt. The full beard of this king suggests that he represents Melchior, who is traditionally depicted as an old man with a beard. The standing king does not wear a crown. The third king and Joseph are not present: this may have been an artistic choice due to the limited space. Above the kings is an angel holding a scroll. The kings find the child and Mary in a stable in Bethlehem, hence the two cows at the side of the scene. The third king and Joseph are not present: this may have been an artistic choice due to the limited space. Above the kings is an angel holding a scroll. The kings find the child and Mary in a stable in Bethlehem, hence the two cows at the side of the scene. The outside of the scroll is decorated with grapevines and leaves, a reference to Christ as the True Vine. The base of the scroll is also decorated with bunches of grapes and leaves. Over the whole of the crozier head is vertical decorative profiling.

The crozier was carried by bishops and abbots as a symbol of authority and pastoral care. The crozier has mainly a liturgical function and is held with the left hand, in order to bless with the right hand. The shape of the crozier is derived from a shepherd's crook; the curled end serves to lead straying sheep to the right path, the other end of the crook is pointed, to encourage lazy sheep to keep moving and to keep threats at a distance. The staff is symbolic of the pastoral care of the bishop for the congregation and has been used since the early years of the Christian church. From the early medieval period onwards it was made in a variety of materials, but by the 12th-century ivory was in widespread use for the head of the crozier. The staff was often made of wood. The crucifixion and Mary with Child are repeated motifs. 

Many, mainly Italian, croziers have a stylised snake or dragon's head as a connection between the head and the shaft. This is a reference to the story of Aäron, the brother of Moses, who threw his staff at the Pharaoh of Egypt, after which it turned into a serpent. On the back of this crozier, next to the throne of Mary, a scaly tail can be seen, which ends in the typical heart shape of a dragon's tail; this is probably a reference to the staff of Aäron.   

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