Open Access
Colon Mendoza, Ilenia
Graduate Program:
Art History
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 20, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Jeanne Chenault Porter, Committee Chair
  • Brian A Curran, Committee Chair
  • Elizabeth J Walters, Committee Member
  • Simone Osthoff, Committee Member
  • Cristo yacente
  • Gregorio Fernandez
  • Polychrome Sculpture
  • Dead Christ
  • Spanish Baroque
  • Hapsburghs
The Cristo yacente, or supine Christ, is a sculptural type whose origins date back to the Middle Ages. In seventeenth-century Spain these images became immensely popular as devotional aids and vehicles for spiritual contemplation. As a form of sacred drama these sculptures encouraged the faithful to reflect upon the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Christ as well as His promise of salvation. Perhaps the most well-known example of this type is by the Valladolidian sculptor, Gregorio Fernández (1576-1636). Located in the Capuchin Convent of El Pardo near Madrid, this work was created in accordance with Counter-Reformation mandates that required religious images inspire both piety and empathy. As a “semi-narrative”, the Cristo yacente encompasses different moments in the Passion of Christ, including the Lamentation, Anointment, and Entombment. As an andachtsbild, it is a devotional image that allows contemplation on various stages of the Passion. Images of the supine Christ played a key role in liturgical reenactments in both the Eastern and Western church; epitaphioi and medieval wooden sculptures of the dead Christ served as iconographical precedents for the Cristo yacente by establishing a relationship between the Eucharist and the physical body of Christ. These Cristos yacentes are meant to be understood not only as metaphors for the Eucharist but also as embodiments of the promise of resurrection. The symbolism of the Cristo yacente as the bread of life was furthered by the construction of structures that recreated the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and by ceremonial reenactments held during Holy Week in which these figures were processed through cities in Spain. It was through imagery that both the Holy Sepulchre and the Resurrection of Christ were recreated as part of a sacred drama. The sculpture of the Cristo yacente then functioned as a surrogate for the physical body of Christ and played a key role in the liturgical ceremony. Fernández’s formulation of the Spanish Cristo yacente type was aided by sixteenth-century carved and printed precedents. Together with contemporary mystical writings by San Juan de la Cruz, St. Teresa of Ávila, and Fray Juan de Ávila, these provided the artist with the necessary visual and verbal imagery that was to be crystallized in three-dimensional form. Through a detailed study and cataloguing of the most significant examples of the type, most of them produced by Fernández and his workshop, I present, for the first time in English, a thorough material, critical, and socio-historical evaluation of the Cristo yacente as a sculptural and devotional image.