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Pax - Crucifixion with the Virgin, St John, St Denis and St James the Greater
  • Crucifixion with the Virgin, St John, St Denis and St James the Greater
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Crucifixion with the Virgin, St John, St Denis and St James the Greater

  • Object:

    Pax

  • Place of origin:

    France (probably Paris , made)

  • Date:

    second quarter 15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    150-1879

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 8

This ivory pax, made in France (probably Paris), in the second quarter of the fourteenth-century, is carved with a representation of Christ on the cross flanked by the Virgin Mary, St John, St. Denis and St James the Greater. Above the figures there is an ogee arch with two shells in the spandrils. In Catholic culture a pax is a sacred tablet to be kissed by communicants.

A pax is a tablet or board, sometimes of silver, usually decorated with a Christian religious representation. A pax was used at the end of mass as part of the ‘Kiss of Peace’ ritual after the Angus Dei. First the priest would kiss the tablet, then the members of the congregation. England was precocious in introducing the pax, but references abound elsewhere from the beginning of the fourteenth century onwards. Paxes could be made from many materials, including wood, copper, silver and gold, as well as ivory.
The earliest, fourteenth-century, examples are invariably decorated with the Crucifixion, but the imagery rapidly diversified to take in other scenes connected with the Christ’s Passion and Sacrifice. By the fifteenth century the choice had expanded, with many scenes of the Virgin and Child.
This is a personalised pax, not only for the letters N and B (almost certainly the letters of the donor), but also for the inclusion of the coquilles Saint-Jacques (shell motives). These shells and the presence of St James himself, unequivocally indicate a close connection with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The great pilgrimage hostel and church in Paris for those on their way to Santiago de Compostela was Saint-Jacques-aux-Pèlerins, founded in 1319 and situated on the rue Saint-Denis. This was the seat of a confraternity established to bring together those members of the wealthy élite of Paris who had completed the pilgrimage and to offer hospitality to pilgrims about to embark on the journey.

Physical description

Carved ivory plaque depicting the Crucifixion with the Virgin, St John, St Denis and St James the Greater against a hatched background under an ogee arch with two shells in the spandrels. In the border are shells and the letters N and B at intervals. The ivory has probably been gilded and there are three holes at the top and a slot for a handle at the back.
The crucified Christ is shown on a rugged cross. On the left are the Virgin and St Dionysius (Denis), the latter holding his mitred head in his hands (and consequently taller than the other figures). On the right are St John the Evangelist and St James the Greater, the latter in the guise of a pilgrim with hat and a shoulder bag with shell. The figures are set against a cross-hatched background and stand below a trefoil arch with crockets and with two shells in the spandrels before openwork tracery. Carved into the border are square panels with four further shells and the letters N and B repeated.

Place of Origin

France (probably Paris , made)

Date

second quarter 15th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory

Dimensions

Height: 9.8 cm, Width: 7.2 cm

Object history note

In the collection of John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), London. Purchased from Robinson in 1879, with numerous other unrelated objects.

Descriptive line

Pax, carved ivory plaque, depicting the Crucifixion with the Virgin, St John, St Denis and St James the Greater, France (probably Paris), second quarter of the 15th century

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

List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum acquired in the Year 1879. London, 1880, p. 14
Williamson, P, 'Ivory carvings in English treasuries before the Reformation', in Buckton, D. and Heslop T.A eds. Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture presented to Peter Lasko. Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1994, p. 200, fig.10
Randall, R.H, Jr. 'Dutch ivories of the fifteenth century' in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek. Utrecht, 1994, p. 130
Longhurst, M. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: V&A, 1929, p. 39
Koechlin. Les Ivoires Gothiques Francais. Paris, 1924, p. 332
part 1, pp. 400-401
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. 400-401, cat. no. 140

Materials

Ivory

Subjects depicted

Scallop shell

Categories

Ceremonial objects; Christianity; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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