Christ as ‘Christo vivo’ with his head tilted and wide open eyes looking up to the right. The body is wiry and very naturalistically carved. Christ’s full weight can be felt pulling down on the Cross.
Due to close stylistic features with a crucifix carved by Petel out of ivory, now in the Sammlung Würth, a comparison of the two sculptures can well be made. Fundamentally, however, it must be borne in mind that the harder boxwood is more difficult to carve than ivory. Nevertheless, the stylistic consistencies are obvious. The bodies are both modelled with the same decree of precision and show several common characteristics:
the posture of the elongated bodies seen from the side;
the virtually identical modelling of the back muscles;
the expressive upward gaze, the puckered eyebrows, the open mouths;
the asymmetrical arms stretching upwards at an angle with the same folds in the skin on the elbows and hands;
veins that protrude on the arms, legs and neck
There are also analogies to another work by Georg Petel, the scourging group in the National Museum of Bavaria in Munich, where Petel used wood as well as ivory. In this way, he effectively differentiated between the two henchmen carved in pearwood and the Corpus Christi fashioned in ivory. The delicately ridged puckering of the henchmen’s shirts correspond exactly to the folds on Christ’s loincloth.
Joachim von Sandrart, who was born in 1608 in Frankfurt and died in 1688 in Nuremberg, was a painter and copperplate engraver. However, he became famous primarily as the author of the Teutsche Academie der Edlen Bau-, Bild- und Mahlerey-Künste, the first art-historical publication of its kind in German. It appeared in a series of volumes between 1675 and 1679. Sandrart was assisted by his nephew, Jacob von Sandrart, and the poet Sigmund von Birken. The sculptor Georg Petel, whose mobility and death at an early age are typical of the fate of many artists of the time, receives particularly praise in the Teutsche Academie.
UPPER BAVARIA, PETEL’S BIRTHPLACE
Georg Petel travelled a long way in his short life. Born in 1601/02 in Weilheim/Upper Bavaria, he was the son of the cabinet maker Clement Petel. The young Georg lost his parents at an early age. The local woodcarver Bartholomäus Steinle, a representative of the Weilheim School of Sculpture, became his guardian and it was in his workshop that Georg Petel’s skills were furthered. The extremely talented apprentice trained as an ivory carver under Christoph Angermair in Munich. At the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War Georg Petel left the royal Bavarian city for Antwerp where he was introduced to Peter Paul Rubens. He continued his journey to Rome and Genoa via Paris. It was not until 1624 that Petel returned to Germany as a famous and highly sought-after artist where he settled in the Free Imperial City of Augsburg. An exemplary European career that was cut short by his early death during the turmoil of war in 1634.
SIGNS OF LIFE, SEVEN SACRAMENTS
The cross is the most important symbol in Christianity and its identifying sign. The sign of the cross is likewise the gesture of blessing. As a Weapon of Christ (Crucifixion) on the one hand, the cross is primarily a symbol of the triumph of life over death. Through this central importance, the depiction of Christ Crucified (the Crucifixion) in Christian art is the most important pictorial theme. It is interesting to note that the cross symbol was also used prior to the life of Christ. The Ancient Egyptian ‘ankh’ is a symbol of life in the world beyond. God had the tav (T), the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, drawn on the foreheads of all those ‘faithful to god’ by angels as a sign of protection. In early Christianity it was worshipped as a holy sign as its form is reminiscent of the cross on which Christ died. The tav was, incidentally, Saint Francis of Assisi’s favourite letter.