Anna Eörsi:

Haec scala significat ascensum virtutum. Remarks on the iconography of Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder




Opinion is divided on the origin of the iconography of Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder.

According to Millet, the literary source of the theme is the Meditationes Vitae Christi.1

Sandberg-Vavala suggests the influence of apocryphal texts without naming a specific source.2

Derbes points out that in formal respects the theme evolved into an independent subject from the Middle-Byzantine detailed narratives on the Way to Calvary.3  In her opinion, the literary source of this subject matter is Pseudo-Bede's De Meditationes Passione Christi:.

. . . the clamoring crowd leads Christ to the place of Calvary, and then, with all of them watching there, He is stripped of His garments.. . .O what great sorrow it was to you, most holy mother, when you beheld that sight. Then, when the cross had been prepared, they cry: "Ascend, Jesus, ascend." O how freely He ascends, with what great love for us He bore everything, with what patience, what gentleness!. . . Thus, entirely nude, He is raised and extended on the cross. But his most loving mother, full of anguish, placed her veil, which had been on her head, around Him, and covered His shame.. . .Then cruelly He is raised, extended, and with His entire sacred body He is spread and stretched apart.4

Boskovits notes that the Meditationes Vitae Christi, which is generally considered to be the literary source for this iconography, postdates the earliest representations of the theme.5 In his opinion, both literature and art were influenced by the liturgical drama. There is, however, no such drama preserved in which some reference would suggest that the actor personating Christ climbed up to the cross on a ladder. Boskovits himself mentions that such a performance had to entail enormous technical difficulties in staging and could easily result in ridicule, for which reason they soon turned to a more rational solution: they fastened the actor who played Christ's role to a cross lying on the floor. (Boskovits thinks it was this change that caused in the visual arts, from the second half of the fourteenth century, the gradual displacement of the scene of the Mounting by representations of Christ being crucified on the ground.) Since only pictures but no textual references are extant, Boskovits infers from these depictions the existence of an early, otherwise undocumented form of the drama, basing his argument on the very paintings whose iconography  he intends to explain.

In the last part of his study Boskovits poses the question: how are we to account for the persistance of the theme, given the fact that a more rational solution for the preparation of the crucifixion was also known? In his answer he draws attention to the symbolic meaning of the ladder and that of the subject matter itself.6

I would like to argue that this development came about the other way round. I doubt - for reasons mentioned already by Boskovits - that such a scene, in which an actor personating Christ climbs up a ladder set against the cross, is likely to have been enacted on the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century stage.7 The liturgical drama or the Passion narrative did not serve, in my opinion, as a primary source for the representation of this event in the visual arts. The symbolic meaning is inherent in the theme itself and defines this iconographic type from the moment of its first appearance. The liturgical drama or literary adaptations of the Passion only influenced, perhaps, certain details of the depictions later on.



The motif of the ladder appears in Passion scenes for the first time in the depictions of the Deposition from the Cross, in the eleventh century.8 From the twelfth century on, there are occasional examples of the use of ladders in the Nailing to the Cross.9 The ladder is found relatively early in pictures of the Preparation for the Crucifixion; Derbes rightly considers such pictures as the immediate precedents of the Mounting of the Cross. For instance, in a late twelfth-century miniature  in the Hortus Deliciarium the ladder is carried by a tormentor as an instrument of the Crucifixion.10  In a miniature on a similar subject, probably made in Verona, the ladder has a central significance  (Fig.1).11 This fifteen-step ladder leans against the cross in the central axis of the picture, nearly merging with the vertical beam of the cross that touches the top of the pictorial field, and its upper end reaches into the sphere of the angels that hover over the horizontal arms of the cross. This ladder relates to the redemptive effect of the Crucifixion; it has nothing to do with the actual course of the historical event. This is obvious from the position it occupies in the composition, from the number of its rungs,12 and from the symbolic meaning of the ladder itself.

The ladder is an ancient cosmic, eschatological, and anagogical symbol of mankind: it links the sky and the earth, and serves for the soul as an instrument of ascension to God.13 From the earliest times, Christians regarded the ladder of Jacob's dream (Genesis 28, 12) as the way that leads to Redemption (John 1, 52). A characteristic motif in the literature of asceticism is the ladder of Virtues (referring to the vision of Jacob), on which the way to perfection leads.14

Saint Benedict (c. 480-547) considers Jacob's ladder the prototype of the twelve degrees of humility, which the monks must mount in order to attain the love of God:

. . . if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life, we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream.. . .And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.. . . Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to (the) perfect love of God.15

Jacob's ladder is the starting point of John Climacus's (c. 525-600) Ladder of Paradise. This manual, written for the monks of Mount Sinai, discusses in thirty chapters the virtues that lead to Redemption and the vices that must be conquered.16 From the end of the eleventh century on, the illustrations of the tract include a thirty-step ladder, each step of which stands for a particular Virtue or Vice. The monks are hindered by devils in their upward progress, but those who nonetheless manage to reach the top are received in Heaven by God himself.

In Western European medieval art and literature, too, the ladder is a well-known symbol of - among other things - the arduous ascent. On the heavenly ladder of the Hortus Deliciarium representatives of various social classes strive to ascend (Fig. 2).17 Devils impede and angels aid their advancement. In the end it is Caritas alone who receives the Crown of Life from the Dextera Dei that appears at the top of the ladder. The general scheme of the portrayal follows the illustrations of the Climacus manuscripts; the immediate source is Honorius Augustodunensis.18 The inscription in the upper left corner sums up the subject matter of the picture: "Haec scala significat ascensum virtutum et religiosorum societatis exercitum, quo aeternae vitae coronam adipiscuntur. . ." Another inscription states that the steps symbolize those seven virtues the observation of which lead one to Heaven.19 Here the picture departs from Honorius's text, in which the ladder leading to Paradise has fifteen rungs - like the one in the North-Italian miniature (Fig. 1). The fifteen rungs, too, symbolize the virtues that are necessary for the attainment of eternal bliss.20

The manuscripts of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Speculum Virginum introduce their readers from the convent into the secrets of divine wisdom. In the illustration to the ninth chapter of this didactic manual, the virgins, while surmounting numerous obstacles, ascend to Christ on the ladder of Virtues.21 The title page of the Regula Benedicti, a twelfth-century Swabian miniature, portrays Saint Benedict between two ladders that combine the elements of Jacob's ladder, the Scala Humilitatis, and the Scala Virtutum.22 In a vision of Hildegard von Bingen, the Columna Humanitatis Dei is like a ladder to Heaven; Angel-Virtues build the City of God upon it, and the crucified Christ appears as well, on the side, in the company of Virtues.23 Numerous saints' legends and portrayals include the motif of the ladder leading to Heaven.24 The ladder is an attribute of the personification of Philosophy too, in which case the rungs sometimes symbolize the virtues needed for the acquirement of knowledge.25

This tradition of the ladder leading to Redemption came into contact with that of the ladder of the Passion scenes. In part, the emergence of the iconography of Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder is due to their combination.

In traditions that go back to Early Christian times the ladder is symbolic of Christ's cross, the Passion, and of the Savior himself.26 In his homilies on Jacob's dream, Jacob of Sarug (d. 521) argues that the angels had no need of a ladder, that "the ladder signifies the way of the Son. The cross is erected as a wonderful ladder, on which men are lead up to Heaven.. . . The cross is a wide road, it is like a ladder between beings in Heaven and on Earth.. . .Indeed [Jacob] saw the Crucified in the ladder."27

Jacob's vision of the ladder reaching to Heaven is a prefiguration of the Crucifixion.28 Christ's cross has the shape of a ladder on the title page of  Josephus Flavius's Antiquitates Judaicae in Stuttgart (from Zwiefalten, ca. 1180).29 The pictorial commentary to Matthew 18, 1-4 in the Bible moralisée portrays Christ holding in each hand an instrument of admission to the Heavenly Kingdom: a ladder in his right and a cross in his left hand (Fig. 3).30 Occasionally in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis and also in the Biblia pauperum, the dream of Jacob is represented as a type of the Nailing to the Cross.31

According to Saint Bonaventure (1221-1274), Christ became a ladder for mankind by his incarnation, thus repairing the first ladder that was broken by Adam.32 A passage in the De Strenuo milite (1312-14), a tract written by the lector Kolda of Prague, sounds very much like a description of the ladder in the above-mentioned North-Italian miniature, which leans against the cross and leads up from the Earth to the angels (Fig. 1):

The ladder is then aptly juxtaposed to the cross, for admission to Heaven is opened through it to us.. . .The ladder set against the cross thus signified that the cross prepared for us the ascent to Heaven.. . .[Jacob] saw, he said, the ladder standing on the Earth and its top reaching to Heaven. The cross of the Savior, which stood fixed in the earth, elevated us to Heaven by its top.33

The ladder in Passion scenes is not a mere technical device of the Crucifixion or of the Deposition. It can also symbolize a virtue or virtues, the practice of which leads one to Heaven. This symbolism is obvious from a miniature representing the so-called Arma Christi in Kunigunde's passional (Fig.4). This picture of about 1320 illustrates Kolda's previously mentioned tract. The individual motifs are identified by inscriptions, with the words written between the twelve rungs of the ladder running as follows: "hec scala habens duodecim gradus humilitatis." This would prove, then, that the primary function of this ladder is not that it should evoke a station of the cross; but rather, that its steps symbolize the twelve degrees of humility, in accordance with the tradition of Saint Benedict's Regula.

The ladder thus has a special place among the Arma, in spite (or perhaps specifically because) of the fact that it is simultaneously associated with more than one station of the Cross.34



Like the ladder, the theme of Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder has a special status in the Passion narrative. Its emergence and development were defined just as much by theological contemplation as by an ambition to enrich the story of Christ's tribulations with new anecdotal details.

As has already been pointed out above, the connection between God and the ladder had an ancient and well-established tradition in Christian iconography. It was God who appeared - mostly in the image of the preexistent Christ, with a cruciform halo - at the top of various ladders to Heaven. Instead of saints, monks, nuns, etc., now it is he - an incarnate man, mortal in the literal sense - who undertakes the arduous ascent. His ladder is the prefiguration of the Scala sancta.35

We have seen that in one depiction, which can be considered an immediate precedent of the theme (Fig. 1), the ladder has a primarily symbolic meaning. Coppo di Marcovaldo's picture, dated to 1255-60 and believed to be the earliest example of this iconographic type, probably relates to the contemporary exegesis of Jacob's ladder (Figs. 5, 6). Saint Bonaventure, in his Itinerarium mentis in Deum, writes at La Verna in 1259:

Since on Jacob's ladder ascension is prior to descent (Genesis 28,12), let us place our first step in the very bottom, while we hold up the whole sensible world to ourselves like a mirror, from where we get to God the highest Creator. . . so that we become the Christians who with Christ pass from this world over to the Father (John 13,1).36

These words - in view of the time and place of their conception, as well as their mood and content - can be considered with at least as much justification to be the verbal equivalent of the new iconography as the words of Pseudo-Bede, quoted by Derbes.37 Coppo's ladder, on the first rung of which the ascending Christ places his foot, points directly up to "God the highest Creator," at the top of the croce dipinta (Fig. 6).

As Derbes has convincingly stated, this new iconographic type derives, in formal respects, from the scenes of the Carrying of the Cross and the Preparation for the Crucifixion. Besides these, we can also consider among the potential, direct or indirect, prefigurations of the theme - in addition to the previously discussed representations of the ladder of Virtues - such pictures as the pictorial commentary of the illustration to Psalm 76, 2 in the Bible moralisée in Paris: a naked youth, the personification of Humility, is about to ascend a ladder, while Pride beside him, dressed in ornate garments, falls headlong to the ground (Fig. 7).38 Humility ("custos virtutum", "radix virtutum") was, especially in Franciscan circles, one of the most important Christian virtues; they regarded it as the prerequisite for the attainment of the cardinal and theological virtues. Its attribute was, among other things, the ladder, the instrument of ascension, because in the sense of the polarity characteristic of Christian thinking humilitas implies sublimitas.39

In short, I believe that in the evolution of the theme Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder it was not so much the historical as the symbolic aspects of the event that were emphasized.  In this, among other respects, it resembles the theme of the Disrobing, which also emerged around this time. This subject is also a stage in the Preparation for the Crucifixion; it also originally emphasised the voluntary nature of the Passion; and, similarly, it was the redemptive, not the historical aspect that dominated its first Italian formulation.40 Subsequently, both themes were enriched with anecdotal elements, and transformed into a historical event.41 The Mounting, however, preserved its symbolic character throughout, much more so, than did the Disrobing.

Numerous representations of our theme are par excellence Andachtsbilder. They are closely related to another theme as well, to a specific type of Deposition from the Cross in thirteenth-century Italian art. These Deposition scenes, whether in the form of a sculptural group or monumental fresco, were meant to represent the entirety of the Passion. They are characterized by the symmetry of the composition and the stylization of gestures, which change the non-recurring historical event into a ritual-symbolical act: the body of the deceased Christ is presented to the beholder (Fig. 8).42 The Deposition became a cult-image of the highest importance ensuing from the debates about the living or dead nature of the crucified Christ, because it unequivocally attested to his dead state and to the representability of his human nature. The portrayals of Christ, as deposed from the cross (with the help of a ladder) and as mounting the cross on a ladder, emphasize the opposite poles of the 'two-natures paradox': the first his human, the second his divine nature. It cannot be coincidental, I believe, that the first extant representation of Christ Mounting the Cross is found in the very same croce dipinta the central image of which is one of the early Italian examples of the expressly suffering Crucified Christ (Fig. 6).

Thus the theme of Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder demonstrates the voluntary nature of the sacrifice on the cross, the virtues of Christ, and the paradox of the two natures, that is, abstract theological concepts - within the boundaries of a more or less historical context. Like Christ, the other participants of the Calvary scene behave in an uncustomary way in these depictions. The reason for this is that the God-Man is portrayed entirely as human (as is usual in this period), but in his demeanor he is fully divine (which is rather untypical at the time)43 - this ambivalence, as we shall see presently, affects the behavior of the other participants as well.

The calm and peaceful mood of Pacino di Bonaguida's miniature, of around 1300, is fundamentally different from the atmosphere of contemporary depictions of the Passion (Fig. 9).44 Its restraint cannot be explained on stylistic grounds, since other pictures in the same series, especially the Mocking of Christ, portray the torturers as expressly cruel, and in the Crucifixion Mary and Saint John bewail Christ desperately. In this picture, however, Mary and a holy woman pray for the success of the enterprise, the voluntary death on the cross. One of the young men rather caresses than beats Christ's back. Another, to the right, hands up the hammer to the Savior himself. The seven steps of the ladder are probably symbolic either of Virtues or of the seven degrees of one Virtue.45

An interesting case is that of the early fourteenth-century panel attributed to the Maestro di Monteoliveto (Fig. 10).46 The ladder on which Christ ascends to his cross does not appear in the Carrying of the Cross immediately preceding this scene, therefore the painter must have thought of it primarily not as an instrument of the Passion but as a ladder of Virtues leading to Redemption. The man to the far right hands up a nail with such reverence to his associate lying on the horizontal beam of the cross, and the latter receives it with such veneration as if they both knew what precious relic they hold in their hands. It is uncertain whether it is a soldier or one of the lamenting women that Mary tries to keep away from her Son with the wide gesture of her right hand (though the ambiguity might only be due to the small size of the panel). The Virgin can be seen participating actively in the Mounting also, for instance, in the pictures of Guido da Siena (Fig. 11) and an Umbrian-Tuscan painter.47 In these representations the scene, originally and essentially symbolic, is enriched with anecdotal-historical elements, probably also under the influence of the Passion Plays.

It is not fully clear what Mary's intention is in these pictures. In the last two examples she clearly pushes a torturer away with her right hand. With her left, also covering her son's loins, she encircles and/or restrains the ascending Christ.48 Is it the mother, who wants to protect her son from harm, or is it the God-Bearer, who would not let the soldiers prevent the Savior from carrying out his task? A similar problem arises in the case of the executioners: what should their function be if Christ himself desires his dreadful death? In some depictions they behave in a brutal and hostile way, either out of habit or in order to gratify their sadism, or they might be represented this way under the influence of Passion illustrations and the liturgical drama.  In other pictures, as we have seen, they are positively gentle. Occasionally they even get into conflict with one another; so it seems to me, at least, in the case of an elderly Jew, who tries to stand in the way of the soldiers' brutality in the fourteenth-century fresco of Sant' Andrea in Polesine in Ferrara (Fig. 12).49

It has been pointed out by Boskovits too, that the sensed violence is also absent in the painting attributed to the Maestro della Madonna Lazzaroni in Esztergom: instead of being aggressively pushed or dragged, Christ is rather supported and helped on the ladder that is propped against the cross (Fig. 13). Boskovits notes, furthermore, that there is an emphasis on the ladder in the composition, and that Mary and Saint John are present as witnesses only; they are not involved in the event itself.50  It is probably not accidental that the ladder has twelve steps in this picture. The twelve steps, like those of the ladder in Kunigunde's passional, may correspond to the equivalent number of the degrees of humility (Fig. 4). The tradition of the Scala Virtutum is strongly present in this picture, too: in order to carry out his Father's will, Christ ascends to the cross on the ladder whose steps symbolize the different degrees of humility and/or the Virtues. Saint John points to the Savior with his right hand as if explaining the meaning of the event to the beholder.

The barefooted, extremely ragged figure in this picture, both of whose hands touch the ladder with profound reverence, has nothing to do, I believe, with the historical events of the Passion either. There are no known analogies to this figure in Crucifixion scenes. Even Stephaton, the most tattered character of the Calvary, is usually portrayed in a far more elegant fashion than he.  The figure here may be the personification of voluntary poverty, which - beside Humility - is one of the most important Franciscan virtues. As Christ mounting the ladder is the embodiment of Humilitas, so perhaps could this man be that of Paupertas.51  There are examples in fourteenth-century Franciscan virtue-cycles of Voluntary Poverty being personified not by a female figure, as is usual, but by a male in rags (e.g. in a fresco by the workshop of Taddeo Gaddi, Baroncelli Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence).52



To better understand the iconographic type under consideration, we may turn our attention to a subject that is similar in content. The curious theme of Christ Crucified by the Virtues also deals with the manifestation of Christ's virtues and the voluntary nature of his sacrifice.53 This strange iconography emerged also in the middle of the thirteenth century, but in the North, to illustrate the sermons of Saint Bernard. In this case Christ's limbs are nailed to the cross by three female figures who symbolize Virtues - his left hand by Patientia, his right by Oboedientia, and his feet by Humilitas. A fourth Virtue, Caritas, opens the side-wound of the dead Christ (Fig. 14). In the accompanying sermon, Saint Bernard - following an ancient tradition - talks of a cross adorned with precious stones and of the virtues that Christ demonstrated on the cross.54 The representations of this theme, characteristic of monastic art, can be traced up to the early sixteenth century. In terms of form, the iconography derives from the so-called erecto cruce Nailing to the Cross, but in the present example the Virtues take over the role of the executioners.

In my opinion, the themes of Christ Crucified by the Virtues and Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder are two formulations of the same idea, one is typically Northern, and the other typically Italian.55 While the Northern artists remove the Crucifixion from its historical context and represent Christ's virtues with female figures, the Italians create the illusion of historicity as well. The latter also, like their northern colleagues, portray the causes that led to the Crucifixion, but in their pictures Christ actively practices the virtues of humility, obedience, patience, etc., and fulfils the commandment of love, and the ladder, while functioning also as an instrument of the Passion, symbolizes the Virtues as well. In neither case is an actual historical event portrayed. In the fourteenth century, then, the Crucifixion by the Virtues absorbs realistic-anecdotal elements too, from the Nailing to the Cross, and also, perhaps, precisely from the Mounting. For example, in the Fronleichnamsaltar of the Cistercian church in Doberan two of the seven Virtues stand on a ladder and nail Christ's hands to the cross, while a third, kneeling on the horizontal beam of the cross, places the crown of thorns on his head (Fig. 15).56

Another point which the two themes have in common is that they both induce the believer to imitation, in so much as they present him with the paragon of moral perfection. The analogies between the two Andachtsbilder also reinforce our hypothesis that the Mounting of the Cross on a Ladder evolved not under the influence of literary texts or the liturgical drama, but resulted primarily from theological speculations.



Nevertheless, the characteristic gentleness and the reverent touching of Christ, of the nails, or of the ladder in a number of scenes of the Mounting derive, visually, not from the Crucifixion by the Virtues, but from the iconography of the Deposition, that is, from the theme in which the ladder as an instrument of the Passion first appeared.

We have seen that, as compared to the Mounting, the Deposition from the Cross emphasizes the opposite pole of the 'two-natures paradox', i.e. the humanity of Christ. The Mounting resembles this scene in its structure, since ascension implies lowering and descent implies elevation.57 Since the removal of Christ from the cross was interpreted as the removal of sin from mankind, the ladder of the Deposition became associated with the ladder of Virtues as well.58 Thus, thematic, formal, and, of course, chronological reasons account for the fact that the Mounting is not infrequently a compositional pendant to the Deposition.59

In the light of this context, it is the ladder of the Deposition that leads back, this time permanently, to Heaven. Numerous pictures portraying the dead Christ include the ladder as a prominent motif; as if indicating that the soul of the Savior is to rise to God on this ladder. For instance, in a Neapolitan picture of a follower of Rogier van der Weyden it appears as if an angel would help carry the dead Savior up the ladder (Fig. 16). Similarly, the role of the ladder as an instrument of the elevation of the soul is manifest in Jan Provost's painting in the St. Louis Art Museum (Fig. 17).60 When the ladder of the Lamentation is connected compositionally with a praying donor's banderole, as on the Seilern triptych by the Master of Flémalle, then the ladder is principally a symbol of contemplation or meditation, which also leads up to God.61 As such, it is a direct derivative of the attribute of Philosophy, and an immediate antecedent to the ladder of Melencolia I.


Published: Arte Cristiana, 85/1997. 151-166.



1. G. Millet, Recherches sur l'iconographie de l'Evangile aux XVe et XVIe siecles,  2nd ed., Paris, 1960, 380.

2. E. Sandberg-Vavala, La croce dipinta italiana e l'iconografia della passione, Verona, 1929, 278.

3. Derbes, 174-198. Examples: an icon representing the Life of Christ, late 11th-early 12th c. (Mount Sinai, Monastery of St. Catherine); Monreale Cathedral, after 1182; Mount Athos, Iviron Cod. 5, fol. 214v, c. 1200; North-Italian miniaturist, Rome, Bibl. Apost. Vat. MS lat. 39, fol. 64v. (Fig. 1), see also n. 11.

4. Derbes, 185-186, and 195.

5. Boskovits, 1965, 69-94; Boskovits, 1994, 189-231.

6. Boskovits, 1965, 87-92; Boskovits, 1994, 226-231.

7. Pickering is also on the opinion that the jacente cruce type of Crucifixion "wurde für die Passionsbühne bevorzugt, denn sie ist leichter agierbar. Auch hatte man von keinem Handwerker oder Baumeister blasphemische Einwände wegen eines technisch unmöglichen Unterfangens zu befürchten." See F. P. Pickering, Literatur und darstellende Kunst im Mittelalter, Berlin, 1966, 158.

8. E.g. Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS gr. 74, fol. 59v; Byzantine ivories in Munich, Staatsbibliothek and London, Victoria and Albert Museum. An early Italian example is Guglielmo's croce dipinta, 1138 (in Sarzana Cathedral).

9. E.g. the upper plate of a portable altar from Lower-Saxony or Westphalia, mid-12th c. (Paris, Louvre); Maiestas Domini and scenes from the Gospels on the top of the reliquary casket of Saint Andrew, Lower-Saxony(?) (Siegburg, Parish Church).

10. A. Straub.-G. Keller, Herrade de Landsberg, Hortus Deliciarium, Strasbourg, 1901, pl. XXXVIII, 1. In Italian art the ladder as an instrument of the Crucifixion first appears, to the best of my knowledge, in the Carrying of the Cross of Enrico Tedice's croce dipinta, from the first quarter of the 13th c. (Pisa, S. Martino).

11. Cf. with the fresco of Géraki, Zoodochos Pigi (Millet, as in n. 1, fig. 409.). This miniature was dated to the second half of the 13th c. by Beissel (S. Beissel, Vatikanische Miniaturen, Freiburg i. Br., 1893, XIX A.), in the early 13th c. by Wilk (B. Wilk, Die Darstellung der Kreuztragung Christi und verwandter Szenen bis zum 1330, Tübingen, 1969, 254., cat. no. 158.), and to the second quarter of the 13th c. by Eleen (L. Eleen, "A Thirteenth-century Workshop of Miniature Painters in the Veneto," Arte Veneta, 39, 1985, 9-21.). The subscription of fig. 141. in Boskovits, 1994 has: "North-Italian miniaturist, around 1200." Boskovits himself refers to the symbolic meaning of the Jews and the ladder in this miniature. (Boskovits, 1965, 77, and Boskovits, 1994, 205.)

12. See n. 20.

13. Bertaud-Rayez, cols. 62-86; J. Chevalier -A. Gheerbrant, "Echelle," Dictionnaire des Symboles, Paris, 1982, 383-7.

14. A. Katzenellenbogen, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Mediaeval Art, Chapter 3, New York-London, 1939; Bertaud-Rayez, cols. 79-80;Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie (hereafter: LCI), W. Brückner, "Himmelsleiter," and M. Evans, "Tugendleiter," Freiburg i. Br., 1968; Kretzenbacher, 16-42.

15. St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, Chapter 7. (translated by L. J. Doyle, Collegeville, Minn., 1947). See also e.g. S. Bernardi Abbatis Claraevallensis: Tractatus de gradibus humilitatis (J. P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, series Latina (hereafter: PL), Paris, 1878-90, 182, 941-58.): ". . . ita his duodecim gradibus ascensis, veritas apprehendatur.  Illud quoque quod in scala illa, quae in typo humilitatis Jacob monstrata est, Dominus desuper innixus apparuit (Gen. 28, 12-13), quid nobis aliud innuit, nisi quod in culmine humilitatis constituitur cognitio veritatis?" (col. 943).

16. J. R. Martin, The Illustration of the Heavenly Ladder of John Climacus, Princeton, 1954. The number thirty symbolizes the thirty years of Christ's "hidden life." (Martin, 8.). Climacus's work was translated into Italian by Gentilis de Foligno (d. 1348). In the chapter "Scala Dei" of Simone da Cascina's Colloquio Spirituale (1391) each step of the ladder to Heaven corresponds to a particular Virtue (Mistici del Duecento a del Trecento, a cura di A. Levasti, Milan, 1935, 957-62).

17. Straub-Keller (as in n. 10), pl. LVI; Martin (as in n. 16), 19, fig. 297.

18. "Scala coeli major" (PL 172, 1229); "Scala coeli minor" (PL 172, 1239), the same again in "Speculum Ecclesiae" (PL 172, 869).

19. "Septem sunt scalae, quibus ascenditur ad regnum caelorum.  Prima castitas.  Secunda mundi contemptus. Tertia humilitas.  Quarta obedientia.  Quinta patientia.  Sexta fides.  Septima caritas de puro corde."

20. In the "Scala coeli minor" Honorius himself associates the fifteen steps of the ladder with the fifteen steps that lead up to the entrance of Solomon's temple. These were the steps on which Mary ascended at the time of her presentation. See also e.g. Gerhoch von Reichersperg (Kretzenbacher, 30); Sicardo Cremonese (Boskovits, 1994, 229).

21. M. Strube, Die Illustrationen des Speculum virginum, Düsseldorf, 1937, 32-36, fig. 2.

22. Stuttgart, Cod. hist. 415, fol. 87v; K. Löffler, Swäbische Buchmalerei, Augsburg, 1928, 56-57.

23. Hildegard von Bingen, Wisse die Wege: "Scivias," com. M. Böckeler, Salzburg, 1954, 270, pl. 29. Further examples can be found in a German miniature from the end of the 12th c. (Erlangen, Univ. Bibl. MS 8, fol. 130v), where one part of the forked end of a ladder is pushed down into Hell by a devil, and the other is pulled up into Heaven by God (Katzenellenbogen,as in n. 14, 73, note 2), or in the Last Judgment fresco of Chaldon, England, ca. 1200, where the souls of the elect climb up to Christ on a ladder (T. Eriksson, "L'Echelle de la perfection. Une nouvelle interpretation de la peinture murale de Chaldon," Cahiers de Civilisation médiévale, 1964, 439-49). In an early 15th-c. English miniature a five-step ladder of Virtues leads up to the Mount of Perfection. Five monks pray on the ground; in Heaven Christ holds the saved souls in his bosom, in the manner of Abraham. The Virtues are the following: Humility, Poverty, Obedience, Chastity, and Charity (K. J. Höltgen, "Arbor, Scala und Fons Vitae. Vorformen devotionaler Embleme in einer mittelenglischen Handschrift, Brit. Mus. Add. MS 37049," in: Chaucer und seine Zeit: Symposion für W. T. Schirmer, Tübingen, 1968, 315, fig. 4, fol. 37v).

24. Cf. the Death of Saint Dominic (e.g. Zurich, Landesmuseum LM 26117, fol. 261v; Oxford, Keble College, fol. 130; Francesco Traini, Pisa, Museo Civico, 1344); the Vision of Saint Romuald (e.g. triptych by Nardo di Cione, Florence, Accademia, 1365, with Camaldulian monks on the ladder); the Vision of Saint Bridget (e.g. formerly in Turin, Bibl. Naz. MS I. III. 23, on the ladder a Dominican monk in conversation with Christ). See also the stories of Saint Emmeram von Regensburg and Saint Bathildis. Paulinus betrothes Saint Agnes - or, more precisely, her picture - standing on top of a five-rung ladder (Pacino da Bonaguida, London, Brit. Lib. Add. MS 181196)

25. E.g. Vienna, Nationalbibliothek 242, fol. 3r, 12th c. (P. Courcelle, La Consolation de Philosophie dans la tradition littéraire, Paris, 1967, fig. 26.1); Kretzenbacher, 31; Boskovits, 1994, 229.

26. E. S. Greenhill, "The Child in the Tree. A Study of the Cosmological Tree in the Christian Tradition," Traditio X, 1954, 322ff; Bertaud-Rayez, cols. 71-72, 79-84; R. Haussherr, "Christus-Johannes - Gruppen in der Bible Moralisée," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, XXVII, 1964, 142ff.

27. L. Beimaert, "Le symbolisme ascensionnel dans la liturgie et la mystique chrétienne," Eranos Jahrbuch, XIX, 1950,  49ff, and ibid. 53, Adam a Sancto Victore: "Haec est scala peccatorum - per quam Christus rex coelorum ad se traxit omnia;" Greenhill (as in n. 26), 344, see here also the pertinent writings of Saint Hyppolite, Caesarius of Arles, Alanus de Insulis, and others. For similar hymns calling the cross a ladder see: C. Blume-H. M. Bannister, Thesauri Hymnologici prosarum, Vol. II. 1., Leipzig, 1915, no. 121 (13), p. 193.; no. 128 (3), p. 200.; no.129 (5), p. 201.; no. 130 (6), p. 201.

28. LCI, Vol. II., col. 375, (e.g. a monstrance from Lower-Saxony, ca. 1170, in the church of Trzemeszno, Poland); Isidorus Hispaliensis: "Somnus iste Jacob, mors, sive passio Christi est" (PL 83, 258); Walahfrid Strabo: "Dormitio Jacob in itinere, mors Christi in cruce" (PL 113, 154); Beda Venerabilis (PL 91, 253); Remigius (PL 131, 105-6); etc.

29. Stuttgart, Württenbergische Landesbibliothek Hist., fol. 418 3r.

30. London, Brit. Mus. Harley MS 1527, fol. 34v (A. de Laborde, La Bible Moralisée illustrée conservée a Oxford, Paris et Londres, Vols. I-IV, Paris, 1911-1921, Vol. III, pl. 505). The inscription reads: "Hoc s(ignificat) q(od) scala per quam ascenditur in celum humilitas est ubi ascenditur per crucem penitentialem(?) non per baculum pastoralem per ministrium non per dominium per contemptum mundialium non per dignitatem."

31. See W. Molsdorf, Christliche Symbolik der mittelalterlichen Kunst, Leipzig, 1926, 61, no. 398. for the Speculum; Sch.: Bilderhandschrift der Biblia Pauperum mit 48 Bildtafeln auf 24 Pergamenblattern (XV. Jahrh.); and Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst, 28, 1925, 270 for the Biblia Pauperum.

32. Itinerarium mentis in Deum, IV. 2. (". . . assumpta forma humana, fieret sibi scala reparans priorem scalam, que fracta fuerat in Adam.") See also ibid. I. 3, VII. 1, I. 9 (see n. 36).  In Sermo IV in Ascensione Bonaventure says that Christ. . . "enim est scala contingens, immo penetrans caelos per sublime Divinitatis, et contingens terram per limum nostrae carnis.  In hac scala disponuntur omnes perfectiones et glorificationes et dona gratiae et gloriae. . ." (Opera omnia, IX, 1901, col. 320). Saint Bonaventure's Tree of Life can also be interpreted as a ladder to Heaven (Greenhill, as in n. 26, 353). In the mystical literature of the Italian Trecento, the use of the ladder as a metaphor for the cross is a commonplace (e.g. Mistici, as in n. 16, 264: Beata Angela da Foligno,  918: Agnolo Torino, etc.).

33. "Apte enim scala cruci coniungitur, per quam nobis ad celum aditus reseratur.. . .Scala igitur cruci apposita signabat, quia crux nobis ascensum in celum evidencius preparabat.  Vidit, inquit, scalam stantem super terram et cacumen eius tangens celos.  Crux enim Salvatoris, que in terra fixa stetit, ad celi nos fastigium suo cacumine sublevavit." (A. Scherzer, "Der Prager Lektor Fr. Kolda und seine mystischen Traktate," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, XVIII, 1948, 370-71).

34. "Aus dem moralisch-didaktischen Bereich kommt die Interpretation der Leiter, wie sie im Kunigundenpassionale abgebildet wird, als Skala der zwölf Stufen der Demut" (R. Suckale, "Arma Christi. Überlegungen zur Zeichenhaftigkeit mittelalterlichen Andachtsbilder," Städel Jahrbuch, VI, 1977, 183ff). Another reason why the ladder is a special intrument of the Passion is because none of its pieces are preserved anywhere as relics (R. Berliner, "Arma Christi," Münchener Jahrbuch, VI, 1955, pp. 43ff; Wilk, as in n.11, 180).

35. For the relation of the Scala Sancta, Jacob's ladder, Scala Virtutum,and Scala Paradisi see W. Schulten, Die Heilige Stiege auf dem Kreuzberg zu Bonn, Düsseldorf, 1964, 136-140.

36. I. 9. "Quoniam ergo prius est ascendere quam descendere in scala Iacob, primum gradum ascensionis collocemus in imo, ponendo totum mundum istum sensibilem nobis tamquam speculum, per quod transeamus ad Deum,. . .simus etiam Christiani cum Christo transeuntes ‘ex hoc mundo ad patrem’ (John 13, 1) . . ." (Cf. n. 32.)  The general of the Franciscan Order - like Saint Francis and many other Franciscan theologians - often emphasized the voluntary nature of the Passion.

37. I deliberately used the term "verbal equivalent" instead of "literary source." The first pictures of Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder perhaps inspired, but did not illustrate contemporary texts on similar subjects.

38. Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS lat. 11560, fol. 20 (Laborde, as in n. 30, Vol. II, pl. 244). "Psalmus iste ostendit medicinam humilitatis contra timorem superbie.  Intentio ergo prophete est hortari ut nullus superbus habeat fiduciam in se et quod nemo humilis debet desperare de deo quia(?) si flagellatur recipit certam consolationem premii sui."

39. M. Meiss, "The Madonna of Humility," Art Bulletin, XVIII, 1936, 462ff; F. Zoepfe, "Demut," Reallexikon zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte (hereafter: RDK), Stuttgart, 1937, Vol. III. 1251-7 and fig. 3.  See  n. 15, 30, 32, 33, 36, 59, 61, 62 of the present study, as well as the accompanying text. For further examples see Bertaud-Rayez, col. 69 (Rupert von Deutz) and col. 79 (Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, and Saint Bonaventure).

40. Formerly in Davenham, Malvern, Slg. Dyson Perrins MS 51, fol. 3v, School of Bologna-Padova, ca. 1260 (RDK, as in n. 39, Vol. V, cols. 761ff, K.-A. Wirth, "Entkleidung Christi," fig. 5).

41. See n. 55.

42. H. Belting, Das Bild und sein Publikum im Mittelalter, Berlin, 1981, 224ff.

43. "Such literalism in symbolizing eagerness for Crucifixion is rare - it almost annuls the root of sufferance in the word 'Passion'," writes Steinberg in connection with Guido da Siena's picture in Utrecht (Fig. 10) (L. Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, New York, 1983, 189).

44. New York, Pierpont Morgan Lib. M. 643, fol. 12v.  R. Offner - M. Boskovits, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting, Section III., Vol. I,  Florence, 1987, 172; Boskovits, 1994, 226, fig. 146.

45. See n. 19. and Figs. 2. and 13; furthermore: In the tract De septem septensis, erroneously attributed to John of Salisbury, the soul arrives to God on the ladder of the seven Virtues (PL 199, 954a-955a); Alanus de Insulis: Summa de arte praedicatoria (PL 310, 111ac); Herveus likened the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to a ladder (PL 181, 141); Saint Bonaventure's Diaetae Salutis, Tit. IV., cap. II: "Est autem obedientia scala paradisi, cujus septem sunt gradus...Septimus gradus est obedire perseveranter, sine discontinuatione; exemplum de Christo, de quo dicit Apostolus (Phil. 2, 9) factus est obediens usque ad mortem.  Isti septem gradus erant spiritualiter in scala Jacob, de qua habetur in Genesi (28, 12): quae significat obedientiam."

46. Boskovits, 1965, fig. 19 (London, Courtauld Institute); Boskovits, 1994, fig. 152 (New York, Priv. Coll.).

47. Guido da Siena, Utrecht, Rijksmuseum, Het Catarijnenconvent (Boskovits, 1994, fig. 149); 13th c. Umbrian-Toscan painter, Wellesley, Mass., Jewett Arts Center (Boskovits, 1994, fig. 150).

48. The pushing away of the tormentor is the counterpoint of the episode in the Carrying of the Cross in which a soldier prevents the Virgin from approaching her son. The covering of the loins derives from the scene of the Disrobing.

49. La pittura in Italia. Il Duecento e il Trecento, a cura di E. Castelnuovo, Milan, 1986, fig. 300.

50. Boskovits, 1965, 91; Boskovits, 1994, 230.

51. "questa beata povertá e fondamento sopra'l quale s'edifica la beatitudine di tutte le virtú, ed e nutrice dell'umilitá. . ." (Giovanni Colombini: Lettere. Mistici, as in n. 16, 750). For the relation of voluntary poverty and the Scala Virtutum see M.-L. Thérel, "Caritas et Pauperitas dans l'iconographie médievale inspirée de la psychomachie," in: Etudes sur l'Histoire de la Pauvreté.  Moyen Age - XVIe siecle, sous la direction de M. Mollat, Paris, 1974, 314.

52. V. G. Tuttle, "Bosch's Image of Poverty," Art Bulletin, LXIII, 1981,  91ff. I see an alternative solution for the interpretation of this figure: it personfies, perhaps, Giovanni Buttadeo, the sinner longing for Salvation. Buttadeo (meaning "the one who beats God") is the equivalent of the Wandering Jew in Italian folklore. This man pushed Christ as he was tottering under the weight of the cross; as a punishment the Savior condemned him to be a fugitive until Judgment Day. This ragged, wandering figure was said to have been seen in Tuscany in the early fourteenth century. He is the one who appears molesting Christ in Trecento Crucifixion scenes. As an indication of his future fate, he is at times portrayed incredibly tattered (as in a detail on the diptych by the Maestro del Coro di S. Agostino in Munich, Alte Pinakothek). For further examples see L. M. C. Randall, "Games and the Passion in Pucelle's Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux," Speculum, XXXXVI, 1972, 256ff.

53. Katzenellenbogen (as in n. 14), 38; G. Schiller, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, Vol. II, Gütesloh, 1968, 151; LCI, Vol. IV, col. 373; H. Kraft, Die Bildallegorie der Kreuzigung Christi durch die Tugenden, Frankfurt, 1976.

54. "Interim patientiam magis exhibet, humilitatem commendat, obedientiam implet, perficit charitatem. His nempe virtutum gemmis quatuor cornua crucis ornantur: et est supereminentior charitas, a dextris obedientia, patientia a sinistris, radix virtutum humilitas in profundo. His ditavit tropaeum crucis consummatio Dominicae passionis, cum ad Judaeorum blasphemias humilis, ad vulnera patiens, intus linguis, clavis exterius pungeretur. Nam et charitas in eo perfecta est, quod pro amicis animam posuit; et obedientia consummata, cum inclinatio capite tradidit spiritum, factus obediens usque ad mortem." (S. Bernardi Abbatis Caraevallensis: In die Sancto Pasche, PL 183, 275).  For the precedents and context of the text, see Kraft (as in n. 53), 12-20. Is it perhaps not possible that the evolution of the so-called Dreinagelkruzifixus is connected - at least in some regions - to the fact that the nails of the Crucifixion relate to the Virtues? See e.g. the words of Cesarius von Heisterbach: "Tres clavi quibus corpus monachi cruci debet esse affixum, tres sunt virtutes, per quas testes Hieronimo martyro efficuntur, scilicet oboedientia, patientia, humilitas." (quoted by Kraft, 22).

55. A similar difference can be observed in the case of depictions of the Disrobing in the 13th century: the French gave preference to typological representations, while the Italians - after the first abstract example (Cf. n. 40) - favored narrative ones (RDK, Wirth, col. 773). An illustration made between 1170-85 for the Dialogus inter magister et discipulum de cruce Christi (Munich, Bayer. Staatsbibliothek Clm. 14159, fol. 6r, repr. in Schiller, as in n. 53, Vol. II, fig. 449) can be considered as the common root of the Crucifixion by the Virtues and the Mounting of the Cross. The four dimensions of the cross - that is even supplied with ladder-steps - are identified with Virtues, based on the exegesis of Ephesians 3,18. The medallion at the intersection of the beams unifies four personifications of properties that characterize man ("Totus homo", "Adam"): Spes, Ratio, Sapientia, and Liberum arbitrium. Christ at the top of the cross grasps the raised arms of Spes. (Under the medallion there is Lex swinging her sword menacingly). This scene can hardly be interpreted otherwise than as representing the crucifixion of man on the cross of the Virtues.

56. Kraft (as in n.53), cat. no. 10. The altar, executed around 1330-40 by a master from Lübeck, is now situated in the north aisle of the church. Cf. the Virtue that places the crown of thorns on Christ with the figures in the corresponding places in Guido's picture in Utrecht (Fig. 11) and in the Nailing to the Cross on an English pluvial in Ascoli Piceno (Sandberg-Vavala, as in n. 2, fig. 241).

57. See n. 15, 36, 39; Beimaert (as in n. 27), 58; Bertaud-Rayez, col. 72; Chevalier-Gheerbrant (as in n.13), 386; etc.

58. Berliner (as in n. 34), 51.

59. E.g. in the reliquary of Bessarione (Venice, Accademia), or in the painting by the Maestro della Maddalena and the Maestro di San Gaggio (San Diego, Timken Art Museum).

60. M. J. Friedländer, Rogier van der Weyden and the Master of Flémalle, Leyden, 1967, fig. 94b. Some other random examples are: Ambrogio Lorenzetti: Pieta from the Santa Petronilla poliptych (Siena, Galleria Nazionale); Master of the Heisterbach altar: Lamentation (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, cat. no. 73); Master of Okolicsno: Lamentation of Christ (Budapest, Hungarian National Gallery); Swabian master: Lamentation of Christ (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle); Circle of Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostanen: Lamentation from the Passion Altar, c. 1515 (Utrecht, Rijksmuseum, Het Catarijnenconvent); Vir dolorum (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Cod. 148, fol. 101).

61. C. Harbison, "Visions and Meditations in Early Flemish Painting," Simiolus, 1985/2, 87. A similar example is the Meester van den Dom's Pieta (Antwerp, Priv. Coll., repr. in G. J. Hoogewerff, De Noord-Nederlandsche Schilderkunst, 's-Gravenhage, 1936, fig. 179).



1. North-Italian miniaturist, Christ Led to the Cross, early 13th c.(?). Rome, Bibl. Apost. Vat. Cod. MS lat. 39, fol. 64v.

2. Hortus Deliciarium, Ladder of  Virtues, late 12th c. Formerly Strasbourg, Bibl. de la Ville, fol 215v.

3. Bible moralisée, Gospel of Matthew 18, 1-4, 13th c.. London, Brit. Mus. Harley MS 1527, fol. 34v.

4. Kunigunde's Passional, Arma Christi, 1320-21. Prague, Statni-Univ. Knih. MS XIV. A. 17, fol. l0r.

5. Coppo di Marcovaldo, Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder (detail of croce dipinta), 1255-60. San Gimignano, Museo Civico.

6. Coppo di Marcovaldo: Christ on the Cross and Scenes from the Passion (croce dipinta),1255-60. San Gimignano, Museo Civico.

7. Bible moralisée, Psalm 76,2, 13th c. Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS Lat. 11560, fol. 20.

8. Deposition from the Cross, North Italian, 13th c. Udine, S. Maria di Castello.

9. Pacino di Bonaguida, Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder, ca. 1310. New York, Pierpont Morgan Lib. M. 643, fol. 12v.

10. Maestro di Monteoliveto, Carrying of the Cross and Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder, early 14th c. New York, Priv. Coll.

11. Guido da Siena, Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder, second half of 13th c. Utrecht, Rijksmuseum, Het Catharijnenconvent.

12. First Master of Sant' Antonio in Polesine, Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder, 14th c. Ferrara, S. Antonio in Polesine.

13. Maestro della Madonna Lazzaroni, Christ Mounts the Cross on a Ladder, ca. 1370.  Esztergom (Hungary), Keresztény Múzeum.

14. Master from Cologne or the Lower-Rhine, Christ Crucified by the Virtues, ca 1300. Cologne, Historisches Archiv der Stadt, W. 255, fol. 117v.

15. Master from Lübeck, Christ Crucified by the Virtues (central panel of a triptych), ca.1330-40. Doberan, Cistercian Church.

16. After Rogier van der Weyden, Lamentation of Christ, late 15th c. Naples, Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte.

17. Jan Provost: Lamentation of Christ (right wing of a triptych), early 16th c. St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Mo.


Frequently Cited Sources:

Bertaud, E. - Rayez, A., "Echelle spirituelle," Dictionnaire de Spiritualité Vol. IV, Paris, 1960, cols. 62-86.


Boskovits, M., 1965, "Un opera probabile di Giovanni di Bartolomeo Cristiani e l'iconografia della 'Preparazione alla Crocifissione'," Acta Historiae Artium XI/1-2, 69-94.


__________, 1994, "Un dipinto poco noto e l'iconografia della Preparazione alla Crocifissione," In: Immagini da meditare, Milan, 189-231.


Derbes, A., "Byzantine Art and the Dugento Iconographic Sources of Passion Scenes," Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1980, 174-198.


Kretzenbacher, L., "Der Schwierige Weg nach oben. Legende und Bild von Jakobstraum, Paradiesesleiter und Himmelstiege," In: Bilder und Legenden, Klagenfurt, 1971, 16-42.



The iconographic type Christ Mounting the Cross on a Ladder, which emerged in the middle of thirteenth century in Italy, demonstrates the voluntary nature of Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross, his virtues, and the paradox of his double nature.  The emergence of this new iconography is due to the combination of the ladder of Virtues, which refers to Jacob's ladder, with the ladder  set against the cross in scenes of the Preparation for the Crucifixion Instead of saints, monks, Virtues, or angels, it is now the incarnate Christ himself, who takes the arduous ascent up to Redemption.  A similar and contemporaneous iconography, typical of regions north of the Alps, is Christ Crucified by the Virtues, which is also about the manifestation of Christ's virtues and the voluntary nature of his sacrifice.