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The Ascension

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Cologne (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1150-1160 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Walrus ivory, carved in high relief

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 4

This and the two other plaques in the V&A (Inv.nos: 145-1866, 378-1871) belong to the same ensemble, together with two other reliefs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (showing the Three Maries at the Sepulchre and the Incredulity of St. Thomas). They are the same size and are carved in an identical style and display the same border designs.
The size and number of the plaques suggest that they probably once formed a large altar frontal or decorated a pulpit, in an ensemble that probably consisted of nine panels. Each is made up of several pieces of ivory, and there is evidence that they were once coloured. The expressionless oval faces in three-quarter profile and the rounded forms are features of Romanesque sculpture and manuscript painting in the Cologne area. Unusually the carver used rows of dots to emphasise curved lines.

Physical description

Christ ascends in a mandorla towards the hand of God held out to him from the clouds. In His left hand He holds the banner of the Resurrection, and he is attended by the Virgin and eleven apostles. Below the rock, representing the Mount of Olives, on which Christ stands, is a half-length figure of the prophet Habacuc, who holds a scroll with his name inscribed upon it. Above are the Dextera Dei and two angels, flying down out of clouds to announce the Ascension. The plaque is made of seven pieces of walrus ivory, joined together to form an approximate square. The curved surface shows signs that it was once stained purple.

Place of Origin

Cologne (made)


ca. 1150-1160 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Walrus ivory, carved in high relief

Marks and inscriptions

inscribed on the scroll, held by Habacuc.


Height: 21 cm at left, Height: 21.1 cm at right, Width: 19.9 cm at top, Width: 19.3 cm at bottom, Depth: 3.9 cm

Object history note

Bought from the Webb collection in 1871. Formerly in the collection of J.B. Nichols Esq., London.

Historical significance: One of the main features of the style is the use of rows of dots to emphasize curved lines, which has given the group its name: 'gestichelte' or 'pricked'.Another series of plaques, slightly smaller, less well preserved, and with a slightly less imaginitive expression of form, but stylistically and iconographically almost exactly the same as the larger series is now divided between Cologne, Berlin and the V&A (a second Ascension). Other works showing the same style confirm the Cologne provenance suggested by the expressionless oval faces shown in the three-quarter profile and the sofly rounded forms, which can be seen in romanesque sculpture in the Cologne area, and in two contemporary illuminated gospels, made in Cologne, now housed in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt (Exh.cat. 'Die Zeit der Stauffer',
Stuttgart, 1977, no. 620.)

Historical context note

Two other reliefs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, showing the Three Maries at the Sepulchre and the Incredulity of St. Thomas, belong to the same ensemble; the size and number of the plaques suggest that they probably once formed a large altar frontal or decorated a pulpit

Descriptive line

Plaque, walrus ivory, depicting the Ascension, Germany (Cologne), ca. 1150-1160

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

Williamson, Paul, ed. The Medieval Treasury. London, 1986, pp. 116-7
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1871, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 32
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part I, p. 77
Vogelsang, R. [Dissertation] Die Elfenbeingnoppe mit den Gestichelten Faltenlinien. Cologne, 1961
Wehrhahn-Stauch, Liselotte. Eine ungewöhnliche Maiestas-Domini-Darstellung. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte. 32, 1969, pp. 1-28 pl. 5
Williamson, Paul, ed. The Medieval Treasury: the Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986, pp. 116-117
Catalogue of works of ancient and mediaeval art, exhibited at the house of the Society of Arts. London, 1850, no. 235
Notices of Sculpture in Ivory. London: Arundel Society, 1856, p. 47
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 274-281, cat. no. 72




Carving; High relief

Subjects depicted

Scroll; Ornament; Banner; Angels; Mandorla


Sculpture; Christianity; Religion; Plaques & Plaquettes


Sculpture Collection

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