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Right leaf of a diptych

  • Object:

    Leaf of a diptych

  • Place of origin:

    France (content: The Betrayal of Christ, The death of Judas and the Entombment, The Coronation of the Virgin, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1275-1300 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    239-1867

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is the right leaf of an ivory diptych, made in about 1275-1300 in Paris, France. The leaf is divided into three tiers separated by bands of rosettes, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, the Death of Judas and the Entombment, and below the Betrayal.

This curious diptych leaf bears a number of iconographic and compositional peculiarities. Most noticeably, the scene of Judas hanging himself appears to be out of order, in the second register. It should take place between the Arrest of Chirst and his trial before Pilate. Here is instead appears immediately before an unprecedented scene of the three Maries appearing a Christ's sepulchre, apparently before his Resurrection, since his body is shown still beneath its shroud. The unusual order of the scenes makes it difficult to reconstruct the missing left leaf of the diptych. Stylistically this diptych has been executed in a characteristic manner, with large areas of background left plain, contributing to a feeling of isolation around the doll-like figures.

The devotional diptych is in many ways the object type most associated with the notion of Gothic ivory carving. The earliest examples probably date to the 1240s; these are complex, large and ambitious works that emerged, somewhat surprisingly, with no obvious precursors. The owners of ivory diptychs sometimes appear within their images. Such portraits indicate that they were special requests on the part of their commissioners, and they parallel the similar figures that appear in manuscripts and panel paintings of the period. The iconography of Gothic diptychs oscillated between two poles. The first of which is the desire to present narratives (Life of Christ and Virgin Mary) for envisaging. The second was the use of non-narrative images to form the focus of devotion.

Physical description

A leaf from a diptych in three tiers separated by bands of rosettes, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, the Death of Judas and the Entombment, and below the Betrayal. The scenes read upwards, and where applicable from left to right. The lowest register depicts the arrest of Christ. On the left stands a figure holding aloft a lantern, while in his other hand he holds a mace. The centre of the composition is formed of a group of three figures: Judas raises his right hand with his palm towards his chest, Jesus stands passively with his arms across his stomach, looking towards Judas, and a man grasps at Christ's collar with his left hand. On the right, St Peter cuts off Malchus's ear with a sword. The middle register depicts Judas's suicide on the left, with the majority of the register given over to the unusual depiction of the Entombment; the body of Christ is shown lying in the tomb covered by a shroud, while the three Maries watch over him, the Magdalene with her ointment jar in the centre. The top register depicts the Coronation of the Virgin, with standing angels holding large candles to either side. The lower left hand corner is broken away.

Place of Origin

France (content: The Betrayal of Christ, The death of Judas and the Entombment, The Coronation of the Virgin, made)

Date

ca. 1275-1300 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory

Dimensions

Height: 16.9 cm, Width: 9.1 cm

Object history note

In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862; purchased from Webb in 1867 for £15.

Descriptive line

Leaf from a diptych, ivory, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin & scenes from the Passion, France (Paris), ca. 1275-1300

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1867. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 8
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 17, pl. XII
pp. 92-93
Maskell, W. A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, p. 152, II, cat. no. 248
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part 1, pp. 222-225
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
pp. 92-93
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part 1, pp. 222-225, cat. no. 69

Materials

Ivory

Subjects depicted

Sword; Jar

Categories

Christianity; Sculpture; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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