Counted among the cargo of religious artifacts recovered from the SS Republic are ten examples (six large and four small) of a porcelain holy water font featuring the crucified Christ on a Cross of Lorraine with an obliquely slanted banner above the head reading ‘INRI’. The Gospel According to John (19:19-20) describes Pontius Pilate writing an inscription, which read “Jesus of Nazereth, King of the Jews” in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. In Western art only the Latin version is generally depicted, abbreviated to ‘INRI’ (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum).
The Christ figure, head reclining toward the right shoulder and with a piece of cloth wrapped around the hips, is flanked by two schematic kneeling angels, each down on one knee on opposite sides of the base of the cross, with hands clasped before the face. The wings are outstretched and the figures appear to be wearing long, flowing robes. The piece seems to have been intended for hanging on a wall. A 3.3cm (inner) diameter ring is present at the top of the piece for suspension. The back of the object is flat, with visible brush/smoothing marks on the reverse. It was probably made by pressing a sheet of clay into an open mold, then attaching the font at the bottom and the Christ figure as separate pieces.
The Old and New Testament ‘angel’ was a messenger or bringer of tidings. The 5th-century treatise De Hierarchia Celesti classified the various ranks of angels into nine categories or choirs. These, in turn, were grouped into three hierarchies. The Third Hierarchy in particular, the angel and archangel as messengers of God to humans are of greatest interest to the interpretation of the Republic religious artifacts. Usually shown with wings (representative of a divine mission), they are sexless, though generally appear in feminine form. In terms of age, they are adolescent or younger, usually wearing loosely draped garments.
The porcelain religious objects shipped aboard the Republic were likely the product of one of the many French porcelain factories mass-producing relatively inexpensive wares for the American market. Of various merchants dealing in American and imported Gallic wares in the mid-1860s, the Benziger Brothers and most notably the Haviland Brothers of New York emerge as strong candidates for the objects’ distribution to the South.