An arresting object of religious significance came to light recently during the process of examining the icon collection of the ACU Art Collection. The piece was a centuries old sculptured figure about 135 centimeters high of Christ crucified, carved from a section of European oak by an unknown artist.
The condition of the timber was of concern due to the activity of borer and some deterioration from the exposure to elements over untold years of its probable siting as a wayside shrine, such as were evident prior to the wars outside villages across France and Belgium.
The work has now been professionally treated and coated with wax for preservation. Apart from the element of faith which inspired the work, of great interest to the University Art Curator, Caroline Field, was the inherent quality of the piece as an artistic carving. By its very crudity and unembellished simplicity as a work of devotional sculpture, the work has a compelling impact in the embodied tension within the form. The helpless body is sculptured in one piece, with both arms separately and attached.
An interesting question emerges as to why the features of Christ’s face have become so weathered through exposure to wind, rain and snow over its long life. A protective shrine canopy that once accompanied the work may well have deteriorated or collapsed over the course of time.
When originally acquired by the Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Greg Craven and the Director of Mission and Identity, Fr Anthony in February 2016, the sculpture was affixed to a rough-hewn cross of new wood, which has been discarded to enable the work to be examined in its original state. It is now mounted in all its spiritual and artistic wonder in the Philippa Brazil Lecture Theatre, St. Patrick’s campus, Melbourne.