THE CAPITAL of CHRIST in MAJESTY
left nave, third column
The side of this capital facing the central nave shows Christ sitting in a sacerdotal pose, with his right index and third fingers raised in the act of blessing the faithful his gaze is fixed upon, with an open book under his left hand. He is encircled by an almond shape, a symbol of absolute perfection. On the side facing the entrance of the church, between volutes and acanthus leaves, there is a figure in priestly robes holding a scroll. The side facing the left nave and the one facing the apse represent, respectively, again between spirals and leaves of acanthus, a male figure with very long flowing hair, mounted on a lion, his hands grasping its jaws; and Saints Peter and Paul, the former with a key and a closed book and the other recognizable by the conventional iconography (he is bearded and bald). In the pages of the book on the knee of the Christ there must have been the two Greek letters alfa and omega, designating Christ the beginning and end of everything, whereas the scroll of the other figure is not readily reconstructable: Italo Moretti (1986) identified the figure as a prophet, but Monsignor Valente Moretti (2004) thought he was Saint Ambrose. The first hypothesis is not very convincing because the figure wears priestly robes, but neither is the other absolutely certain because the scroll, if it actually ever had an inscription, is no longer legible.
The same iconographical problem regards the side facing the wall: V. Moretti (2004) thought it showed David subduing the lion, as cited in the Samuel I (17, 34-35), and referred to Jesus’s descent from King David (Matthew 1, 1), while Mario Salmi and others identify the group with Samson felling the lion, according to the Book of Judges (14, 5-6).
It is difficult to understand this capital as a whole, but if we accept V. Moretti’s proposed reading, namely, the continuity of the Church starting from the Old Testament, it could be directly linked to the previous capital, with the four variations of the Green Man according to our new interpretation, even though the identification of this figure with Samson, rather than with King David, seems much more plausible.
Stylistically, this capital, along with the next one, has been attributed to a stone-cutter very close to the author of the first and second columns of this left nave (Gandolfo 2003), but of inferior quality: the leaves, in fact, are more stiff and “cold”, and the figures are noticeably out of proportion, flatter, less expressive, and with rigid drapings. Nevertheless, the capital is “direct” in style, and uses certain devices, such as the left foot of Christ resting on the molding, the astragal, as if stepping off the stage to get closer to the observer. The iconographic motive of Samson fighting the lion is one which appears also in the portal of the church of Saint-Trophime in Arles, Provence (second half of the 12th century), which we have already seen is stylistically similar to some of the capitals of Gropina, and where there are also some representations of Green Cats, or Green Lions. Wiligelmo, too, sculpted a Samson in the cathedral of Modena (1099-1106), and we have spoken of the echoes of this great Romanesque sculptor found in our pieve. A particular use of the theme of Samson is that found in the mosaic floor of the choir of the Collegiata di Sant'Orso (Aosta, 1140-1150), where he and the lion are encircled by the words of the Latin magic square:
which in the Middle Ages had the magical apotropaic function of warding off evil.