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Head of Christ Crucified
Master of Liesborn
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This fragment comes from a scene of Christ crucified which formed the central panel of an altarpiece made for the high altar of the Benedictine abbey at Liesborn. The crown of thorns, placed on Christ’s head to mock him, has pierced his skin and blood is running down his face. The letters ‘I.N.R.I’ are attached to the top of the Cross. They are the first letters of the Latin words Jesu Nazarene Rex Judae, meaning ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’: one of the charges made against Christ was that he claimed this title for himself.

Four fragments (now at the Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History, Münster) show angels catching the blood from Christ’s wounds in large chalices; the wing we see here belonged to one of them.

Key facts
Artist Master of Liesborn
Artist dates active second half of the 15th century
Full title Head of Christ Crucified: Fragment of the Crucifixion Scene
Group The Liesborn Altarpiece
Date made probably 1470-80
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 32.7 x 29.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1854
Inventory number NG259
Location in Gallery Room 62
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The Liesborn Altarpiece

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These images once formed part of a large altarpiece made for the high altar of the monastery church of the Benedictine Abbey at Liesborn, in Westphalia in north-west Germany. The main panel consisted of a central scene of the Crucifixion, flanked on either side by two smaller individual scenes from Christ’s infancy.

In 1517 two shutters painted by the Master of Cappenberg were added to either side of the Master of Liesborn’s original panel. These showed the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, his resurrection and events that occurred afterwards, such as the Pentecost.

The altarpiece was removed in the eighteenth century and later cut up so that only fragments survive. In the National Gallery’s collection there are three fragments of the central Crucifixion scene, a fragment of the flanking scene of the Adoration of the Kings and two complete flanking images (The Annunciation and The Presentation in the Temple) from the main panel, as well as two scenes from the inner faces of the shutters.

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