‘Christ on the Cross’ – Unger/Eber

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bove the High Altar in most churches usually hangs a large crucifix depicting the ultimate sacrifice of Calvary. In our church here at St. Jude’s, however, the scene of the Crucifixion is captured by a wonderful, huge mosaic that dominates the wall above the altar.

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This splendid work, which bears the signature “Unger/Eber”, was designed by Hans Unger, and created by mosaic artist, Eberhard Schulze, and is truly a richly colourful and inspiring centre-piece. Indeed, our church is worth a visit,  if only to view this beautiful work of art.

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The two Germans began combining their considerable skills in the early 1960’s, and, through their superb mosaic work for London Transport, came to the attention of L.A.G. Pritchard & Sons, architects of St. Jude’s Church.

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In October 2002, Mr. Schulze kindly sent us the following notes, which he made in 1965, soon after the completion of the mosaic:

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“Our first large-scale religious mosaic mural was for the new parish church of St Jude’s in Wigan. The architects L A G Prichard were asked to design a modern, fan-shaped building for a congregation of about 600. The dominant feature was going to be the mosaic, Christ on the Cross, above the altar. The mosaic measures 17 ft by 9 ft, depicting Christ on the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother, and St John standing near. The colours used in the figure of Christ are white, light grey to dark-grey and set against strong black lines to intensify the shape of the body. Small amounts of red tesserae (mosaic pieces) depict the wounds of the crucifixion. The halo is executed in gold sheet tesserae.
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The colours used for the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary are light beige to dark brown, and for the figure of St John, a range of yellows and green smalti (opaque glass handcrafted in Italy). The dominant colour of the background is blue tesserae with larger pieces of stained glass or Venetian smalti fused ceramic tiles. The overall effect is of a richness not often seen in modern mosaics.
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To cover the area, almost a thousand pounds of Venetian smalti are applied. The larger-sized ceramic tiles were specially made in our studio. These tiles were cut into shape to the sizes required and although the wastage was more than 50 per cent, the overall effect was worth the effort. The shapes of the sections are determined by the design. The tesserae and tiles are set into a special pliable mixture of dark coloured cement onto a base of marine plywood covered with expanded metal. The mosaic is executed in the direct method and took seven months to be completed and installed.

 

I worked for two weeks in the spring of 1965 in a half-finished and cold church in Wigan installing the mosaic; every section weighed about 200lbs and had to be carried and lifted up a scaffold by several men, and put into position. Nearing completion, I remember Fr Tobin proclaiming in a loud voice, “It simply is magnificent” and many of the workmen came near for the very first time to have a look at the mosaic they had so far completely ignored.

 
St Jude’s church was blessed and officially opened by George Andrew Beck, the Archbishop of Liverpool, on Tuesday 13 July 1965.”
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Certainly, the gorgeous, rich blues that predominate in the mosaic, its conviction and fluid movement, are testimony of the skills of two very fine artists.

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Hans Unger became acknowledged as one of the best mosaic designers in London and his smaller works became sought after by private buyers. Tragically, he ended his own life in June 1975.

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Sadly, Eberhard Schulze was forced to give up mosaic-making, when a spinal injury forced him into early retirement.

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Above: 1964 : Eberhard Schulze (left) works on the mosaic with designer, Hans Unger.

 

He went on to develop a successful career as a specialist aquarist, becoming England’s leading discus fish breeder and even carried out aquarium installations for the rich and famous, such as the Saudi Royal Family and the Sultan of Brunei. He now lives in Nonthaburi in Thailand.