When a pirate couldn’t sign his name he made his mark, frequently an “x” or a “T”. The nexus of our attention is where two perpendicular lines cross to make a cruciform or X pattern. This is a most basic and ancient design form. We can’t help looking at this area of maximum contrast. Crossed strokes minimize distraction and amplify the significance of the single point of contrast, the intersection of marks. While DaVinci explored the design possibilities of various signs, like the triangle and the circle he also experimented with the cruciform design. You see him use it in his unfinished painting of St. Jerome ( example 1). Through the centuries artists have tested the cruciform design because of its inherent stability. And, stability is also its problem. Stability is fine if you are making an alphabet letter or a religious symbol but, it’s too static for a painting. Da Vinci tried destabilizing the cruciform design as did other artists like George Inness ( example 3) and Richard Diebenkorn ( example 4). All of these artists moved the center of the cross out of the center of the painting to give it more dynamic balance.
As an example of the historic role of the cruciform shape and its relationship to the idea of balance I have a 3200 year old ancient Egyptian example (example 4. Jackal Faced God Anubis weighs the heart of the recently deceased). Notice that the central intersection of the scale has been further accentuated.
Tilting the cruciform design or one of its arms can improve the dynamic potential of the design. I have tried this in addition to blurring the horizontal crossbeam in an effort to invest more motion in this otherwise super-stable form ( example 5, Grand Central Terminal’s Kiosk and Clock, oil , 36×36). I also pushed the central axis off to one side as Diebenkorn did (example 6, Grand Central Terminal, horizontal, 24×48). Diebenkorn would eventually push the vertical axis far to the side. Example 7 presents another less overt example of the cruciform design. Even more subtle is example 8, a photograph. I over-painted this photograph (example 9) with a new emphasis on a receding central perspective. This idea of convergence to a center is also used to augment the design in examples 5 and 7.