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The Ascension thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery

The Ascension

Panel
first half of 11th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The Virgin does not feature in biblical accounts of Christ's ascent to Heaven from the Mount of Olives. On this plaque, however, she participates in the scene as a central figure, with her hands in the 'orans' (prayer) position. The inclusion of Mary reflects her great importance in Byzantine spiritual life.
The plaque originally formed part of a triptych. The upper and lower borders have the two holes commonly seen on the central panels of Byzantine triptychs. These would have held ivory pegs securing two separate strips of ivory to the front of the plaque, which in turn held the wings in place. The triptych to which it belonged would have been a modest product of a workshop producing such objects in good numbers, and is likely to have been made some decades after the best works of the second half of the tenth century.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved elephant ivory
Brief Description
Panel, ivory, The Ascension, Byzantine (Constantinople), first half of the eleventh century
Physical Description
Relief in ivory. Above, two flying angels uphold a mandorla containing the seated figure of Christ blessing,

The mandorla has radiating beaded strips, a feature only found on one other Byzantine ivory (295-1867).

Below, the Virgin orans stands in the centre surrounded by groups of the Disciples, six on each side. Four tall Cypresses grow up behind the apostles. There are four holes which puncture the frame. The back is plain and the sides have a gently curving chamfer.
Dimensions
  • Height: 13.4cm
  • Width: 10.9cm
  • Depth: 0.6cm
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Style
Credit line
From the Robinson Collection
Object history
Acquired from the Robinson Collection.

The plaque originally formed part of a triptych. The upper and lower borders have the two holes commonly seen on the central panels of Byzantine triptychs. These would have held ivory pegs securing two separate strips of ivory to the front of the plaque, which in turn held the wings in place. The triptych to which it belonged would have been a modest product of a workshop producing such objects in good numbers, and is likely to have been made some decades after the best works of the second half of the tenth century.
Historical context
The relief is limited by the size and shape of the raw material from which it is carved. The scale and the four holes which perforate the border suggest that it was originally used as a book cover. The Ascension, in which Christ rises to heaven above the heads of the Apostles and the Virgin Mary, was often used to decorate books and is here depicted in a conventional manner.

Cutler notes the present ivory as demonstrative of the careful planning required to execute feet which project beyond (as well as sink into) the groundline. Feet that extend in to space had to be planned when the craftsman blocked out his schema of discrete mass.
Subjects depicted
Literary ReferenceThe Bible Acts 1:9-12
Summary
The Virgin does not feature in biblical accounts of Christ's ascent to Heaven from the Mount of Olives. On this plaque, however, she participates in the scene as a central figure, with her hands in the 'orans' (prayer) position. The inclusion of Mary reflects her great importance in Byzantine spiritual life.

The plaque originally formed part of a triptych. The upper and lower borders have the two holes commonly seen on the central panels of Byzantine triptychs. These would have held ivory pegs securing two separate strips of ivory to the front of the plaque, which in turn held the wings in place. The triptych to which it belonged would have been a modest product of a workshop producing such objects in good numbers, and is likely to have been made some decades after the best works of the second half of the tenth century.
Associated Object
Bibliographic References
  • Cutler, A. The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th centuries) (Princeton, 1994) p169, fig187
  • List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum acquired in the Year 1879. London, 1880, pp. 15
  • Longhurst, M. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: V&A, 1929, I, pp. 44
  • Cahier, C and Martin, M. Nouveaux me´langes d'arche´ologie, d'histoire et de litte´rature sur le moyen age. Paris, 1874, II, pp. 46
  • Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 120, 1, cat.no. 27
  • Curtis, Penelope, Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2004
  • Talbot Rice, David, Masterpieces of Byzantine Art, Edinburgh Festival Society, Ediinburgh, 1958
Collection
Accession Number
152-1879

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record createdNovember 22, 2006
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