Dame Barbara Hepworth, one of the Britain’s most celebrated 20th century sculptors, made a gift of 'Construction (Crucifixion): Homage to Piet Mondrian' to Salisbury Cathedral in 1969. The piece, which was completed in 1966, has now finally returned home after two periods on loan to Portsmouth Cathedral (1988 – 1997) and Winchester Cathedral (1997 – 2017).
On Monday 3 July, the Cathedral installed the newly conserved piece in the South East corner of the Cloister Garth. Given its size (12ft high and 15ft 8inches across) this 2.5 ton sculpture was winched into place over the Cloister roof as it was too large to be brought through any of the Cloister doors supervised by the Cathedral's Visual Arts Adviser Jacquiline Creswell.
The Cathedral acquired Crucifixion back in 1969 as a result of a friendship between Hepworth and the then Canon Chancellor of Salisbury, Canon Moelwyn Marchant, an academic, novelist, poet and sculptor in his own right. Only three copies have been made of it, two of which are in America. A letter in the fabric archives by a previous Clerk of Works, Roy Spring, indicates that the sculpture has been sited in a number of different locations during its time in the Close: ‘When it first came it was placed between the north porch and north transept. There it was lost against the back-cloth of the Cathedral. Next, we moved it near the north entrance of the churchyard, close to where the ‘Walking Madonna’ now stands. This position was disputed by the local planning.’ It was then moved to its more permanent location at the southern end of the churchyard on the west lawn where it remained for the next seventeen years.
The new location of the piece in the Cloister Garth sets it in a place of serenity, where its theme of death and rising to new life is given a particular context in what is also a historic burial ground. It also has the practical benefit of ensuring its safety as a significant artwork: the archives record a number of instances of damage by the public when it was in the exterior of the Close.
Art historians suggest that inspiration for this piece came in part from the unlikely source of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science movement, whose writings Hepworth was interested in. Eddy wrote in Science and Health: ‘The real Life, or Mind, and its opposite, the so-called material life and mind, are figured by two geometrical symbols, a circle or sphere and a straight line. The circle represents the infinite without beginning or end; the straight line represents the finite, which has both beginning and end.’
Eddy recognised the duality of Jesus Christ with Jesus as human and Christ as divine. In Crucifixion Hepworth uses both forms, with a circle to signify the eternal Christ. The lines soar upwards alluding to spiritual transcendence. The far side of the cross remains empty to reflect the post-resurrection absence of the material body, except for the blue sphere of the enduring moon and a channel of blood at the base to represent human suffering. On the other side of the cross, Christ the Son of God lives on. The red base leads upwards though grey to a simple metal ring, the eternal Christ. The yellow disc of the sun is a halo illustrating the illumination of God’s wisdom and righteousness.
Barbara Hepworth’s faith, built through the Anglican tradition, convinced her of the affirmative power of art to foster spiritual and social harmony. Crucifixion conveys a profound sense of human loss within a broader context of spiritual continuity and hope. As Lucy Kent, author of An Act of Praise: Religion and the Work of Barbara Hepworth, wrote: ‘Her sculptures...opened infinitely outwards, bridging the divide between the personal and the universal, the visible and the invisible, the mortal and the divine.’