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Virgin and Child with Saints

  • Object:

    Group relief

  • Place of origin:

    France (probably Paris, made)

  • Date:

    early 15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory group made in the early 15th century, in France, probably Paris. The pierced relief depicts the Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Louis of Toulouse and a kneeling nun. The relief probably originally formed the left leaf of a small diptych, with the Crucifixion on the right leaf. The format of the group, with a kneeling donor and intercessory saints standing behind, was popular amongst the commissioners of courtly devotional images at the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century. The style of the figures and the low relief carving, coupled with a love of detail and preciosity, immediately link the relief to other ivory carvings associated with the Parisian and Franco-Flemish workshops of the early fifteenth century.

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

Carved ivory group from a pierced panel depicting the Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, a Bishop wearing a crown (St. Louis of Toulouse?) and a kneeling nun. The crowned Virgin is shown with the suckling Christ-Child on the right; on the left is St John the Baptist with the Lamb of God and the cross with banner, and in the centre St Louis of Toulouse (1274-97). The latter is mitred, as Bishop of Toulouse, holds a crozier, and is furhter identifiable by the crown he holds and the Franciscan knotted rope girdle. Kneeling in front of the group is a Franciscan nun, not haloed as the other three figures are and so presumably not St Clare; instead she probably represents the owner of the piece. The pierced relief was once contained within an ivory borde, the figures flanked by a slim column at each side.

Place of Origin

France (probably Paris, made)


early 15th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 7 cm, Width: 5.6 cm at base

Object history note

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

Descriptive line

Relief, carved ivory, depicting the Virgin and Child with Saints, French (probably Paris), early 15th century

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

Leeuwenberg, Jaap. Early Nineteenth-century Gothic Ivories. Aachener Kunstblätter. 39, 1969, pp. 111-148
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. 7
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 8
pp. 116-117
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, p. 319, II, cat. no. 849, II, pl. CLII
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
p. 218
Westwood, J O. A descriptive catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum. With an Account of the Continental Collections of Classical and Mediaeval Ivories. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1876
part 1, pp. 324-325
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
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. 324-325, cat. no. 111



Subjects depicted

Crozier; Nun


Christianity; Sculpture; Religion


Sculpture Collection

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