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Diptych

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)
    Rhineland (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1375-1400 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Alfred Williams Hearn Gift

  • Museum number:

    A.39-1923

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This ivory diptych was made in about 1375-1400 in France. It represents four Saints: St. John the Evangelist with palm and book; St. John the Baptist with the lamb in a disk; St. Catherine with palm and wheel; St. Margaret issuing from the back of the dragon.
This type of diminutive devotional diptych seems, to judge from surviving examples, to have become increasingly popular in the second half of the fourteenth century. Diptychs of comparable dimensions survive in various styles, such as in openwork, with hatched backgrounds, or with elaborate architectural canopies, and were sometimes mounted in metal frames.

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.
Diptychs consisted of two tablets hinged together, while triptychs were two tablets hinged on either side of a central tablet. The smaller ones were probably held in the hand and opened like a small book, while the larger ones would have stood open on a table or altar. The present diptych is small and in this context, the matched holes through the present diptych suggest that is was suspended from a cord, enabling it to be worn by the owner.

Physical description

Carved ivory diptych depicting four saints. On the left leaf are St. John the Evangelist with palm and book, and St. John the Baptist with the Agnus Dei in a disc; on the right leaf St. Catherine with palm and wheel and St. Margaret issuing from the back of the dragon. Above each figure is a trefoil arch.
Each leaf of this diptych has two trefoil arches, supported on corbels, with heavy mouldings at the upper border. Beneath each arch is depicted a standing saint; those on the left leaf are male, those on the right female. From left to right they are: a young martyr saint with book and palm (likely St John the Evangelist), St John the Baptist holding a disc with a Lamb of God, St Catherine of Alexandria, crowned with palm and wheel, and St Margaret, bursting out of the dragon's back while holding a small cross between her hands.

Place of Origin

France (made)
Rhineland (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1375-1400 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory

Dimensions

Height: 4.3 cm, Width: 7.4 cm

Object history note

The diptych was exhibited in Liège in 1881, when it was in the collection of the banker and antiquarian enthusiast Jules Frésart (d. 1900) of the Château de Flone nearby; it then passed to the Hearn collection, Menton, at an undisclosed date. The collection of Alfred Williams Hearn (1842-1903) was first described by Purdon Clarke in a brief inventory on 1904, which mentions an 'ivory diptych', which may be the present object; however, it seems more likely that inv. no. A.39-1923 was bought after Alfred William Hearn's death by his widow Ellen Hearn; her personal notebook on the collection records the purchase of an 'ivory diptych, small' in July 1912, for 1125 fr. (both Purdon Clarke's inventory and Ellen Hearn's notebook are in the Hearn Nominal File, V&A Archive). Given by Mrs Hearn in 1923.

Descriptive line

Diptych, carved ivory, depicting four saints, France, ca. 1375-1400

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

Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 28
part 1, pp. 318-319
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. 318-319, cat. no. 108

Subjects depicted

Dragons

Categories

Sculpture; Christianity; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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