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St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child

Accession Number
1961/1.178

Title
St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child

Artist(s)
English

Object Creation Date
circa 15th century

Medium & Support
alabaster with polychrome and gilding

Dimensions
17 3/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. x 3 1/4 in. ( 45.1 cm x 22.5 cm x 8.2 cm )

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28, 2009
According to legend, Saint Christopher, a giant of a man, ferried people on his back across a treacherous river. One day he agreed to transport a small child and, to his consternation, discovered that the child far outweighed any previous passenger. The child revealed that he was Christ and that his great weight was due to the fact that he bore the sins of the world. This fine sculpture depicts Christopher (which literally means “Christ-bearer” in Greek) at the moment when Christ reveals his identity. River water once lapped around the saint’s ankles, but the figure has been broken below the knees. Saint Christopher enjoyed immense popularity among medieval Christians, especially among travelers who would invoke the saint for protection, and consequently he appears often in later medieval art. This statue of Saint Christopher probably belonged to an altarpiece, either as part of a larger panel with other figures or alone as an independent devotional object.

Subject matter
This alabaster sculpture represents St. Christopher transporting the Christ child on his right shoulder across a river, although the waters that once swirled around the saint's legs were lost when the figure was broken at the knees. The relatively large size of this sculpture indicates that it probably served as the principle devotional figure in a small altarpiece.

Physical Description
A standing, bearded figure of St. Christopher, broken off at the knees, holds the Christ child on his right shoulder while leaning upon a staff in his left hand. The child, whose head is encircled by a halo, wears a long cloak over his robe and rests his left hand upon an orb in his lap. The red and brown polychromy is a later addition.

Primary Object Classification
Sculpture

Primary Object Type
carving

Additional Object Classification(s)
Ritual Object

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
Christianity
alabaster (mineral)
globes (cartographic spheres)
rivers
staffs (walking sticks)

5 Related Resources

Before 1492
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Early Modern European Objects
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Lives of Christian Saints
(Part of 6 Learning Collections)
Religious Life in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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