The Stag and Unicorn: A Marriage of Pagan and Christian Imagery on a Tenth Century Transenna
Southern Conneticut State University, Published Online (2009)
The Yale University Art Gallery’s Stag and Unicorn relief is an illuminating example of the hybridity of style and symbolism that occurs in early medieval Christian art. The relief, which was produced in southern Italy during the middle of the tenth century, was shaped by the influences of two competing artistic traditions: Roman Classicism, and the more symbolic mode of the Germanic tribes. The relief reveals its complex cultural and artistic roots in both form and style. Although it possesses subtle features, a formal analysis of the imagery reveals the relief’s function to have been one of spiritual reinforcement and instruction. To achieve this end, powerful symbols with cross-cultural roots are employed. The Stag and Unicorn Relief is a dynamic, multi-cultural construction that unites subject and symbolism in symbiotic complement.