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Triptych  - The Death and Coronation of the Virgin

The Death and Coronation of the Virgin

  • Object:

    Triptych

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    14th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory, painted and gilded.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs G. H. Tite and Mr A. G. Tite in memory of Mr G. H. Tite

  • Museum number:

    A.5-1941

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 9

This panel belongs to a group of triptychs, mostly of rather unusually large and elaborate form, dealing with the life of the Virgin. This ivory, which is of exceptionally fine quality, shows an individuality in composition which, though characteristic of the group, is rare in French 14th century ivories. Such ivory triptychs and diptychs made in this period, were of a portable size, and were often given as gifts; they became disseminated throughout the Christian world and helped to make the French gothic style international.
The Gothic Triptych was to all intents and purposes a sub-branch of the tabernacle polyptych, with a shallower central panel and two, rather than four, hinged wings. The subject matter was the same, dominated by single images of the standing Virgin and Child and scenes from the infancy of Christ. Triptychs – like diptychs – are better suited to the needs of a travelling clientele, who would wish to take these small portable altars with them as aids to prayer. Some of them were intended to be carried in cases, usually of cuir bouilli (boiled leather).

Physical description

An ivory panel divided into two registers, divided by a rosette border. The bottom register contains the Death of the Virgin: She lies on a draped bier, wrapped in a shroud and with the outlines of her arms crossed in front of her chest showing through the cloth, with the figure of Christ standing behind holding the soul of the Virgin in the form of a tiny figure. Around are grouped six mourning apostles and above, two half-length figures of angels. The scene is enclosed by a wide cusped arch with a gable, in the spandrels are censing angels. There are considerable remains of colour, some of which is possibly original. The upper half of the relief, depicts the Coronation of the Virgin. Christ is seated on a long bench with the Virgin to the left ; an angel above places a crown on her head and two angels holding candlesticks stand on either side. A wide cusped arch supported on columns surmounts the scene.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

14th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory, painted and gilded.

Dimensions

Height: 23.5 cm, Width: 10.6 cm at base, Depth: 1.4 cm

Object history note

In the possession of Bruno Bowdon, Southgate House, Clowne, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, by 1848, and probably in the Bowdon family for many generations before. At some time after 1862 it passed out of the Bowdon family line. At some point after 1862 it passed out of the Bowdon family, and was lent to the Museum by Mrs G.H. Tite, London, from 1925. Given to the museum by Mrs G.H. Tite and Mr Arthur L. Tite (his son) in memory of Mr G.H. Tite in 1941.

Historical significance: This relief belongs to a group of triptychs, mostly of rather unusually large and elaborate form, dealing with the life of the Virgin. This ivory, which is of exceptionally fine quality, shows an individuality in composition which, though characteristic of this group, is rare in French 14th century ivories.
Ivory triptychs and diptychs made in this period were of a portable size, and were often given as gifts; they became disseminated throughout the Christian world and helped to make the new French art international.

Historical context note

Ivories such as this were carved by lay craftsmen and were largely intended for private devotion. The subjects of these devotional ivories were very limited, being almost entirely confined to the New Testament and its apocryphal additions. The most common narratives depicted are taken from the life of the Virgin or the Life and Passion of Christ. The popularity of these two subjects is evidenced in their endless repetition, which continued for over a century.

Neither the story of the death of the Virgin nor that of her subsequent coronation are related in the Bible. Both stories owe their existence to apocryphal literature some of which dates to the 4th century. The Golden Legend which appeared in the thirteenth century, at a time when popular devotion to the Virgin was especially intense, gives an extended account of the death of the Virgin based on earlier apocryphal works. Natanson proposes that the Master of the death of the Virgin based his depiction on the version of events found in the Golden Legend.
From uncertain begins in the fourth century, the cult of the Virgin gained momentum following the Council of Ephesus (431) and spread from the middle east via Constantinople (where she was the city's protectress) to become a central aspect of Christianity in western Europe by the twelfth century. The popularity of the cult triggered an outburst of Marian visual imagery in manuscript illumination, monumental and miniature sculpture and metalwork. Once the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin had placed her firmly in the heavenly court, she was identified as a focus for prayer and as an intercessor for those who sought her protection for themselves and others.

Descriptive line

Panel, ivory, central panel of a triptych, depicting the death and coronation of the Virgin, France (Paris), early 14th century

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

Natanson, Gothic Ivories (Alec trianti LTD 1951), pp. 21-22, fig. 29
Grodecki, L., Ivoires Francais (Paris, 19471951), pp. 95-96
Waring, J.B., Art Treasures of the United Kingdom from the Art Treasures Exhibition Manchester, 1858, I, ill. on p. 25
p. 22, pl. C
Longhurst, Margaret H, ‘Some war-time additions to the ivory collections at South Kensington’, in: Burlington Magazine, LXXIX, 1941
part 1, pp. 184-187
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. 184-187, cat. no. 58

Labels and date

THE DEATH AND CORONATION OF THE VIRGIN
Ivory
FRENCH (Paris)
Second quater of the 14th century

Th centre panel of a triptych. This relief belongs to a group of triptychs, mostly of large and elaborate form, with scenes from the life of the Virgin. The small figure on Christ's left arm in the lower scene represents the Soul of the Virgin.

Inv. no. A.5-1941 Given by Mrs G.H. Tite and Mr A.G. Tite in memory of Mr G.H. Tite [2006]

Production Note

Natason attributes the ivory to the Master of the Death of the Virgin or his studio. The carver was known by this name because many of his reliefs are devoted to the story of the Death of the Virgin. He considers the atelier to have flourished ca. 1330, continuing beyond the first half of the century. and influenced the "rose" series of diptychs.

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Coronation; Censer; Crown; Death; Candlestick; Arches

Categories

Christianity; Death; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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