The earliest extant public image of the crucifixion of Christ appears on a single relief panel on the early-fifth-century wooden doors of the Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome ( and ). General scholarly consensus dates the construction of the church to the pontificate of Pope Celestine I (422–433 c.e.) as stated in the surviving inscription on the church's interior west wall. Construction probably continued into the pontificate of Sixtus III (432–440 c.e.) when the church was formally consecrated. Although in the ensuing centuries the image of the Crucified Christ—the Crucifix—attained canonical status, scholars seeking precedents for Santa Sabina's crucifixion scene have failed to determine its pedigree satisfactorily within the Christian artistic tradition. We propose that broadening our understanding of artistic prototypes for the Santa Sabina crucifixion image to include both formal and theological elements allows for a more nuanced and promising investigation.
* The authors would like to acknowledge especially the members of the Spring 2006 and Fall 2008 “Pagans and Christians” Sophomore Learning Community, Stonehill College; a casual observation during class in 2006 provided the starting point for this article. We also thank our colleague, Anthony Celano, for sharing his Latin expertise and Jeffrey Spier, who read through an early draft and provided valuable feedback and advice. Images for publication are expensive, so we are grateful to William Storage for sharing his photographs of the Santa Sabina doors and to the British Museum for its generous image rights policy. Stonehill College Dean of Faculty Joseph Favazza found the necessary funding for the illustration rights. Finally, we thank the anonymous HTR readers whose observations and queries helped us improve our arguments.