Woodcut of crucified monk

Forma et figura boni et veri religiosi monachi.
Hand-colored woodcut on paper.
[Netherlands, 16th century]. (BRB1268)

The teachings of the Imitatio Christi inspired Christian believers across Europe to model their lives upon that of Jesus Christ. This allegorical woodcut, the unique recorded copy, shows a Dominican monk who aspires to be “crucified” just as Jesus Christ was, with the goal of becoming the ideal Christian monk. Throughout the print, Latin captions explain how such bodily punishment leads to spiritual fulfillment. The banner at the top, which provides a title for the image, translates “The form and appearance of a good and truly religious monk.” The cross is labeled Charitas, the Christian virtue of charity, which St. Thomas Aquinas defined as the Love of God and mankind. The scrolls that extend from the cross extol other monastic ideals, often with biblical quotations. Across the middle of the image, the largest banner translates “I am crucified to Christ; therefore the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). The monastic virtue of silence, symbolized by the padlock on the monk’s mouth, is captioned “I have set a guard before my mouth” (Sirach 22:33). Similarly, the monk’s blindfold symbolizes the admonition to “Shut thy eyes lest they see evil” (Isaiah 33:15).

The Imitatio Christi
Woodcut of crucified monk