In his book, The Symbolism of the Cross, René Guénon observes that 'Christianity, in its outward and generally known aspect, seems to have lost sight of the symbolic aspect of the cross and to regard it only as a sign of a historical event; these views are not incompatible, but the second is derived from the first.' (GUÉNON 5, p.xi). Mircea Eliade makes a similar comment in his book, The Rites and Symbols of Initiation. In what follows I seek to show some of the archaic and widespread uses of the cross as a symbol.
As a starting point Suzanne Langer distinguishes the 'meaning' of logically discursive language from the 'import' of a work of art. Import results from the total impact of the work as a whole, not from the sequential accumulation of its constituent parts, hence the total experience of a work of art always carries something more than, and something different from, what can be analysed by linear discussion. The whole is more than a sum of its parts (LANGER 7).
Thus, even within the limited perspective of an historic even, one should not assume that all representations of the crucifixion carry the same import for each one has its own inner content even though visual details may be similar. Ben Shahn defines form as the shape of content. The content is the inner, unified vision which evokes an emotional, feeling response in the viewer, and is something more than illustrative representation.