The crosier started, probably, as a simple shepherd’s crook. As bishops and abbots acquired more authority it sometimes became unrecognizable, as in this lavish 15th-century Spanish painting of St. Dominic of Silos.
The artistry of the crosier is best seen close up. They often have tales to tell that are difficult to spot from a distance, such as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary on this 13th-century example from Limoges.
Limoges was the main center of production for top-quality enamel crosiers, which were often buried with their owners. Another subject that appears quite often is the crowning of the Virgin Mary.
Friendly serpents were a common feature of crosiers. In this case the stylized snake seems to be acting as a protector of the Madonna and Child
Crosiers could be a useful way of identifying individuals as a bishop or abbot. In this 15th-century Spanish painting, each of the four saints is holding an attribute. Anthony Abbot is seen on the right, with a crosier that is so close to the color of the background it is almost invisible.
When St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, brought Christianity to England he prioritized the crucifix rather than the bishop's crosier, which is seen rather indistinctly behind him. In 2016 Pope Francis gave the present Archbishop a replica of the crosier that belonged to St. Gregory the Great, the pope who sent Augustine to convert the pagan English.
In 16th-century Normandy, the Triumph of Death as shown in this stained glass highlights the mortality of the clergy, along with everyone else in disease-stricken Europe. A crosier is one of the instruments seen tumbling down.