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The South Cerney Head

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The South Cerney Head
  • Description

    Fragment from a crucifix; head of Christ; wood, gesso, paint; the head with elongated face, closed eyes, drooping triangular moustache, a beard with short, highly stylised locks and hair arranged in rope-like strands.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1130 (circa)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 155 millimetres
    • Width: 72 millimetres
    • Depth: 77 millimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Text from Zarnecki et al 1984:
    'These two fragments of what was once a crucified Christ were found in 1915 concealed in the north-east wall of the nave. The crucifix was probably hidden at the time of the Reformation, and it has disintegrated due to the humid conditions of the cavity. The two fragments have survived as shells, kept together by gesso and paint, and were subsequently filled with sawdust and glue. The nose was restored by the British Museum laboratory in 1960.
    The head shows Christ already dead, with closed eyes and an expression of tranquility. When viewed from one side, the head has a more dramatic appearance, chiefly because of the huge eyeballs and the downward line of the mouth. Seen thus in profile, the head to some extent resembles the 11th-century bronze crucifiz at Werden. The foot is also an object of touching beauty; the forms are angular and the toes bent as if in anguish.
    The work has been considered Spanish, but its inspiration is more likely to have been German, presenting some analogy with such German-inspired sculptures as the Chichester reliefs and the Old Sarum head of Christ. The fragments are particularly precious since they are all that survives of a type of wooden sculpture of which there must have been many thousands in the country, every church having had a crucifix.

    On loan to the British Museum since 1984.Conserved at the British Museum in 1954, 1960, 1968, 1983-4. Head:1994,1008.1; Foot: 1994,1008.2
    Bibliography: Stone, L., 'Scuplture in Britain in the Middle Ages', Pelican History of Art, 1955, p65. Zarnecki, G., 'Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210', 1953, p117, pl26b.
    Lethaby, W. R., 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries', XXVIII, 1915-16, p17


  • Bibliography

    • Zarnecki et al 1984 no115 bibliographic details
    • Robinson 2008 p. 50 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G40/dc14/sB

  • Exhibition history

    2001-2002 Sep-3 Mar, London, Tate Britain, Medieval Sculpture
    1984 5 Apr-8 Jul, London, Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art 1066- 1200

  • Condition

    Fair; surface is fragile and porous with several holes and cracks on bridge of nose, back of head and behind right ear.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Following the granting of a Faculty (7 March 1994), the head was bought from the Vicar and Parish Church Council of All Hallows, South Cerney, Gloucestershire with the aid of a grant from the NACF of 25,000.00, the remainder coming from the Museum's reserves. It was found walled up at the northern springing of the western tower arch of All Hallows in either 1913 or 1915.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Corpus fragment; head of Christ. Wood, gessoed and painted.

3/4: Right

Corpus fragment; head of Christ. Wood, gessoed and painted.

Image description



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Object reference number: MCM8284

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