The laughing Christ

The carvings on the Dinton lintel illustrate the winged and laughing Christ confronting Leviathan with the butt of His Cross. On the lintel is portrayed the upper half of a small winged man, apparently in imminent danger of the approaching jaws of Leviathan. Nevertheless the gaze of this man is directed outward at the observer with unconcern, for He is laughing broadly at us. Our attention is challenged by the mirth that is directed towards us by this small figure who so disregards the frightful contingency of his situation - for he is about to be swallowed, like Jonah, by the monstrous whale Leviathan. In his clenched fist he holds a wriggling worm. In his right hand he holds his cross, thrusting into the monster's mouth.

An apple on top of the Cross is reminiscent of the bait by which the Devil lured Adam and Eve to the Fall. The wriggling worm confirms that Christ himself is the bait:

I am a worm and no man. All that see me laugh me to scorn. Psalm 22

The carver has thus contrasted the mockery suffered by Jesus with God's mockery of the Devil. The latter, having deceived Adam, finds himself mocked (Job 40:15-24; 41:1-3).

Webb discovered another very rare depiction of the Laughing Christ, this time in a drawing in the Winchester Psalter. This was made most probably under the patronage of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester from 1129 to his death in 1171. Among the many fine drawings, there is one figure which is distinguished from all the rest by the rarity of its iconography. 

 

Christ is shown in two of His appearances to his disciples after His resurrection. Standing in the midst of His disciples,  disregarding their devoted attention, He stares out of the picture to laugh in the face of the living reader, as if to share with us some private joke.

Detail from the lintel at Dinton parish church

The laughing Christ

 

Winchester Psalter 1140-1160

The British Library

© 2015 by Dr Helen M Smith

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