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The Good Thief on the Cross

School of Kalkar

Artwork Details

The Good Thief on the Cross
circa 1520
School of Kalkar
walnut with polychrome
10 ¼ in x 4 15/16 in x 1 9/16 in (26.04 cm x 12.54 cm x 3.97 cm)
Museum Purchase


March 28, 2009
This twisted figure with cruelly bound and broken arms represents one of the two thieves who were crucified alongside Christ. It once belonged to a larger sculptural ensemble that depicted the Crucifixion and other scenes from the life of Christ as part of an altarpiece. The figure’s upturned head—a position reinforced by his outthrust leg—indicates that he originally looked toward the figure of Christ to his left. This gesture identifies him as the Good Thief, who recognized Christ and decried the injustice of his execution. His confession of faith upon the threshold of death invited Christians to contemplate their own trials in a sinful world and prepare for the final confrontation with God that they would face at the end of time.

Subject Matter:

This bearded figure bound to a cross represents the Good Thief described in the gospel of Luke who was crucified alongside Christ and decried the injustice of Christ's execution (Luke 23:39-43). This sculpture once formed part of a complex, multi-figure altarpiece depicting the Crucifixion in which the Good Thief would have appeared next to a larger figure of the crucified Christ.

Physical Description:

A bearded man, wearing a loincloth and a long trailing headband, hangs from a cross by his arms, which have split open beneath the ropes that bind them. His left leg hangs downward and passes behind his right foot, which perches precariously on a forked branch. He strains to his left and gazes upward with his mouth open in a tortured movement augmented by the dramatic sweeps of drapery that frame his torso.

Usage Rights:

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