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The Maries at the Sepulchre

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    St Gallen (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 900-950 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ivory

  • Museum number:

    380-1871

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 11

This is an ivory plaque, made in about 900-950, depicting the Maries at the Sepulchre.
Carolingian ivories and manuscripts often featured similar styles and compositions. This ivory was probably carved at the Benedictine abbey of St Gallen, an important centre of manuscript and ivory production. The same design can be seen in manuscripts made at the abbey. It shows the Virgin Mary and her two companions finding Christ’s empty tomb.
The plaque is closely connected in size, figure style, ground and border decoration to two other panels, one showing the Annunciation (Berlin), the other the Ascension (Liverpool). The three panels with a fourth - now missing, of the Crucifixion - very likely originally belonged to a book-cover, probably a Gospels or Evangelistary.

Physical description

Ivory plaque carved in sunken relief. The sepulchre is represented as a round building with dome and cupola. An angel sits on the left of the tomb, addressing the three Maries as they approach and holding a tall cross-sceptre in his left hand. Above his right hand there appears to be an indistinct. single-word inscription. The first of the Maries carries a censer and a pot of spices to anoint Jesus. Above are two soldiers, who appear to be sleeping on the roof of the tomb. In the background are hillocks in low relief. The ground on which the scene takes place does not meet the lower border, as in most reliefs, but sits on a parallel step above it. The border is of small acanthus leaves separated by fine single drill holes.

Place of Origin

St Gallen (probably, made)

Date

ca. 900-950 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Ivory

Dimensions

Height: 9.3 cm, Width: 6 cm, Depth: 0.7 cm, Weight: 0.06 kg

Object history note

Bought from John Webb in 1871, £10.
The plaque is closely connected in size, figure style, ground and border decoration to two other panels, one showing the Annunciation (Berlin), the other the Ascension (Liverpool). The three panels with a fourth - now missing, of the Crucifixion - very likely originally belonged to a book-cover, probably a Gospels or Evangelistary. The place of production of St. Gallen or the Upper Rhine is suggested, as the drapery of the angel is similar to those on the ivory cover of Codex 53 at St Gallen, associated with the monk-craftsman Tuotilo and probably carved in about 900. Goldschmidt (Goldschmidt, 1914) pointed out that there is also a pen-and-ink drawing at St Gallen executed by the scribe Hartker (986-1017) of a remarkably similar scene of the Maries at the Sepulchre, which might have been drawn from an ivory model. The drawing is not a copy of the present plaque though. It might rather be that an influential prototype existed in St Gallen, which served as a model for both works.

Historical significance: Carolingian ivories and manuscripts often featured similar styles and compositions. This ivory was probably carved at the Benedictine abbey of St Gallen, an important centre of manuscript and ivory production. The same design can be seen in manuscripts made at
the abbey. It shows the Virgin Mary and her two companions finding Christ’s empty tomb.

Historical context note

The plaque probably formed part of a book cover.

Descriptive line

Panel of bookcover, ivory, the Maries at the Sepulchre, Swiss (probably St Gallen), Carolingian, ca. 900-950

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

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. 70
Gibson, Margaret. The Liverpool Ivories: Late Antique and Medieval Ivory and Bone Carving in Liverpool Museum and the Walker Art Gallery. Liverpool, 1994, cat. no. 10
Dokumentation der Verluste, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.Berlin, 2006. Skulpturensammlung, Band VII, p. 235
Lasko, Peter. Ars Sacra, 800-1200. Harmondsworth : Penguin Books, 1972, pp. 71-72
Surmann, Ulrike. Studien zur Ottonischen Elfenbeinplastik in Metz und Trier. Witterschlick/Bonn : M. Wehle, 1990, pp. 9-10, fig. 7
Cf. St. Gall, Stiftsbibl. MS. 391. Hartker Liber Responsalis, p. 33
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 210, 1, cat. no. 52
Goldschmidt, A. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der Zeit der karolingischen und saechsischen Kaiser. VIII.-XI. Jahrhundert, (Elfenbeinskulpturen I), Berlin, 1914 (reprinted, Oxford, 1969)
Dell'Acqua, Francesca; Cutler, Anthony; Kessler, Herbert L.; Shalem, Avinoam; Wolf, Gerhard, eds. The Salerno Ivories: Objects, Histories, Contexts, Berlin, 2016, pp. 168-169.

Production Note

or upper Rhine

Materials

Ivory

Subjects depicted

Dome; Cupola; Tomb; Angel; Soldiers; Sceptre; Sepulchre

Categories

Sculpture; Christianity; Religion; Reliefs; Plaques & Plaquettes

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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