(There may be more views or larger images available for this item. Click on the thumbnail image to view.) Beard style for v shaped face.
A (broad): Crucifixion scene bordered by a flat-band moulding, though only the top and left-hand sides of this frame now survive. Christ is depicted wearing a sleeved long garment whose lower corners dip to points leaving parts of his legs exposed. Above what appears to be a low broad belt are incised lines forming V-shaped bands which merge into a moulding on top of the belt. A double moulding runs from these bands along the sleeves. On Christ?s surviving right arm this moulding terminates in a cuff; the fingers on his open palm penetrate the frame. Christ?s head dominates the scene with staring eyes which are highlighted by heavy modelling and drilled pupils. He has large hollowed ears, a forked beard with moustache and his ribbed hair cuts into the frame. No supporting cross is visible behind him.
In the upper quadrants are two angels, forward facing and standing on Christ?s arms. Each has lightly modelled facial features and hair of a type similar to Christ?s. Both wear belted kirtles and are equipped with spreading wings and a pelta-shaped feature at the neck.
Below Christ?s left arm is the spear-bearer Longinus. He is seen in profile and has a single eye and a curling pigtail which emerges from the back of his helmet. Though the detail is now rather indistinct it appears that the helmet had a long noseguard. His body is cross-hatched, presumably to suggest armour, and his spear is carried in a crudely-drawn left hand. Stephaton, below Christ?s right arm, is shown full-face and also appears to have a helmet with noseguard. His rod, which reaches to the bottom of Christ?s beard, ends in an angled trumpet-like terminal and is held awkwardly in a crooked right arm. The rod passes across both his body and that of a worn companion alongside him. This latter figure also seems to have been helmeted and forward facing; parts of his body must have cut into the frame.
There are considerable traces of gesso and paint still adhering to the surface of the stone. Black gesso can be seen on the spear, on the angels? wings and on Christ?s robe and left leg. There are extensive remains of a green wash which formed a ground to the relief carving and there is a large fleck of green on the upper border. Christ?s neck and vestments also carry the remains of an orange/red wash whilst there is a further patch of dark red paint on Stephaton?s body.
Beard style for v shaped face
B (narrow): Three narrow slots, now filled with traces of iron stains, have been cut into this face. One now breaks the upper right-hand corner of the frame on face A; the other two are cut through from face C but are stopped short of the decorated face A.
C (broad): Undecorated but roughly punch-dressed. In the lower right corner is an incised and incomplete graffito of a boar(?) with squared muzzle and bristles.
Iconographically this stone is unique among Northumbrian carvings, though in the selection of Stephaton and Longinus as flanking figures it accords with recognized northern English preferences in Crucifixion scenes. Other elements in the composition, however, rarely occur in English sculpture; only at Hart, co. Durham, for example is there a clear case of a cup-like termination to Longinus?s rod which might be compared to the trumpet shape on the end of the Penrith pole, and only on a restored fragment from Hexham are angels set above the arms of the crucified Christ (Cramp 1984, pls. 81, 414; 179, 959). But nowhere else in Northumbrian sculpture are Longinus and Stephaton combined with angels, a crossless Crucifixion and the cup/chalice shaped?sponge?. Even if the search for parallels is expanded to other media in England there is only one manuscript, Durham Cathedral A.II.17 (fol. **383v.), which offers an analogous combination of most of these motifs and its isolated position in the English series demonstrates that this was not a type which became rooted in Northumbria (Alexander 1978, ill. 202).
In Irish art, however, all of these elements are persistent features, appearing both individually and (more important) in combination in manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture (see Gougaud 1920). There are numerous examples to be found on the well provenanced ninth- and tenth-century crosses of Ireland (Henry 1965, pls. 68, 84; idem 1967, pls. 66, 70, 84, 87) but the closest parallels for the Penrith composition are provided by two sets of Irish metalwork plaques recently discussed by Harbison (1980). Among these a plaque from Clonmacnoise (Ill. 672) is particularly significant since it displays a Crucifixion scene which must derive from a variant very close to the model-type used at Penrith (Henry 1967, pl. 8). On both the metalwork plaque and on the Penrith carving Christ is shown without a background cross, with abnormally large head and hands, a?Grecian? style of hair, hollowed ears, a moustache and forked beard. On both he wears a sleeved long garment with a low broad belt or band. The angels all share similar hair styles, face forward and have spread and drooping wings. In each scene Longinus and Stephaton are portrayed as a combination of profile and full-face figures with attempts to show armour by hatched incising. In both scenes the weapons are held awkwardly and the profile figure is given a curled pigtail whilst the pole held by Longinus passes across Christ?s right side and has the same distinctive angled bend and trumpet-shaped terminal.
Other details common to the two pieces suggest that the sculptor (or his immediate models) misunderstood details in the original Crucifixion variant which were more rationally reproduced at Clonmacnoise. Thus on the metalwork plaque the low band on Christ?s clothing is designed to distinguish a decorated chasuble from a underlying alb, with the ornamented panels on the chasuble having their own lower border. The Penrith sculptor has remodelled the clothing into a single garment, transforming the alb/chasuble boundary into a low broad belt but illogically preserving the panels and lower hem of the former chasuble. Similarly the moulding which runs along the sleeves of both Crucifixions has no function at Penrith but divides decorated panels at Clonmacnoise. Another type of thoughtless modification can be seen on the angels. At Clonmacnoise their wings are attached to their bodies by spiral joints which have then been joined by a horizontal line to form a pelta; Penrith has retained the pelta shape but interpreted it as a neck ornament.
Clearly Penrith differs from the Clonmacnoise composition in such details as the absence of subsidiary crosses, in the presence of additional figures, in the use of helmets and in the relative positions of the profile and full-face attendants. These differences suggest that Penrith is not a direct copy of Clonmacnoise but the two must draw upon closely related models, variants of which also lie behind the other plaques in the?Clonmacnoise? and?Dungannon? groups defined by Harbison (1980).
Ireland, particularly through the metalwork plaques, thus provides close parallels for the Penrith sculpture in combining features and motifs which rarely occur in England and are never found together in Northumbrian sculpture. Even those Penrith details which are not present on the Irish plaques can be traced back to variants within the range of Irish Crucifixions: the west cross at Clonmacnoise for example, has a Crucifixion scene with additional subsidiary figures and, significantly, they are helmeted (Henry 1967, pl. 87). An Irish origin for the Crucifixion composition on the Penrith slab thus seems likely and the Irish model on which the Penrith sculptor depends was probably in metalwork form. What betrays this is the manner in which all of the elements in the scene overlap or touch each other, and the way in which Christ?s head and hands (and probably the additional figure) overlap the frame. This has no rationale in sculpture but such overlapping is an essential part of any openwork composition in metal. The Penrith arrangement thus shows details proper to one medium being reflected in another.
The dating of the Cumbrian plaque is difficult in view of its iconographic isolation among local carvings. Harbison (1980, 34–8) has recently argued for a twelfth-century date for the two sets of Irish plaques which include the Clonmacnoise piece. It might therefore seem illogical to place the Penrith sculpture in a different chronological setting. Yet not all scholars agree with Harbison?s dating and both MacDermott (1954, 40) and Henry (1967, 122–3), for example, seem to favour the early tenth-century period for the Clonmacnoise plaque. To associate the Penrith carving with the Clonmacnoise plaque need not therefore necessarily imply a twelfth-century date for the sculpture. Indeed, such a late date would raise problems concerning its place in the sequence of local Norman art and about the circumstances in which an Irish metalwork ornament would be copied in Norman Cumbria. In any case there is no reason to assume that Clonmacnoise and Penrith must be contemporary works (whatever the date of the former), for our argument has been that they derive independently from closely related variants, neither being directly dependent on the other. Most of the elements which distinguished those variant models were already present, either individually or in partial combinations, long before the twelfth century in Ireland. We have already cited ninth- and tenth-century sculptures showing a crossless Crucifixion and using Longinus, Stephaton and angels together with a cup-shaped?sponge?. Gougaud long ago pointed to the venerable history of this form of chalice termination to Longinus?s rod in Irish art whilst, as early as the eighth century, the Athlone plaque and the Calf of Man Crucifixion show many of the features used in Clonmacnoise and Penrith: hair-types; forked beard; sleeved long garment with cuffs and horizontal mouldings; profile figure with pigtail (Henry 1965, 46; Megaw 1958). Given the archaic nature of Crucifixion iconography it is therefore perfectly possible that the related variants of the Crucifixion scene on which Clonmacnoise and Penrith both depend were already in existence long before the twelfth century.
Beard style for v shaped face
One local Cumbrian argument, moreover, suggests that the necessary model was indeed available much earlier than the twelfth century and that the Penrith stone belongs to the pre-Norman period. On the Cumbrian plaque the hem of Christ?s garment dips at the corners to leave parts of his legs exposed. Something of this treatment can be found in the late tenth- or early eleventh-century Southampton Psalter (Henry 1967, pl. 45) but the only other occurrence of this form in Insular sculpture is on the Crucifixion scene on the tenth-century Cumbrian cross at Gosforth (no. 1) where, like Penrith, Christ is shown without a cross. This suggests two possibilities. Firstly, the Penrith sculptor may have modified his Irish model under the influence of an impressive local monument. Alternatively (and more likely) both Gosforth and Penrith may have been responding independently to the same model which was therefore available in Cumbria by the tenth century. In either case a tenth-century date for Penrith is implied and that dating would, of course, provide a plausible setting for the importation of metalwork into Cumbria by Gaelic-Norse traders or settlers from either Ireland or those Irish Sea areas within its artistic sphere.
The original function of the carving, given its incomplete state, is debatable. The width can plausibly be restored to c. 36 cm but its height is more difficult to reconstruct since we cannot know whether there were further figures, or scenes, below what now survives. Taking account of the proportions of the metalwork plaques which provide such close parallels, however, it is probably significant that all of the visible figures could be contained within a frame of c. 36 cm square. Of the numerous possible functions for a stone of this size three can be suggested as most appropriate: shrine fragment; altar frontal; wall plaque. That it once formed part of a composite shrine seems unlikely, however, in the absence of any original joints or rebates on the surviving sides, though it might be noted that the (restored) dimensions of the Penrith stone are close to those of the end-panel of the Cuthbert reliquary coffin (Kitzinger 1956, 215). The possibility that it once formed part of a composite altar frontal is suggested by the fact that this appears to have been the function of two other small Crucifixion carvings from Phillack in Cornwall and from the Calf of Man (Thomas 1961; idem 1978, 77; Megaw 1958). But these and other frontals are all much taller than the Penrith stone?s suggested dimensions (Thomas 1967a, 106–10; 1971, 183–90) and both a broad base and a thick mensa would have been necessary to embody the Cumbrian carving in an altar of usable height. The most likely function is therefore that of a wall plaque and in its dimensions it would then be comparable with plaques from Marton in Lincolnshire and Bride in the Isle of Man (Taylor and Taylor 1966, 13; Kermode 1907, pl. LXV). The boar graffito must have been added after the carving had been discarded from its original use.