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The Mount of the Good Shepherd

  • Object:

    Group

  • Place of origin:

    Goa (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1650 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory with traces of polychromy

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh in 1949

  • Museum number:

    A.58-1949

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case CA6

Christ is shown as a child dressed as a shepherd, and perched on top of the mount, his chin resting on his right hand, asleep. Three leafy branches fan out from the back of the group; in the central branch is a half-length relief of God the Father holding an orb in his left hand, and blessing with his right, and above him the dove as the Holy Spirit. Below is a mount with a fountain, from which sheep are drinking. This is flanked by St Joseph and the Virgin. Beneath, St Mary Magdalene reclines reading a book, beside a crucifix. The mountainside is dense with animals, including lions, rabbits, dogs and sheep.

This distinctive composition is unique to Goan ivories, and recurs again and again; many examples have survived. The clustered figures, and certain important iconographic types taken from Indian art, such as the fountain, showing the plentiful effusion of nature's blessings, had deep-rooted ritual value, and seem to have been re-applied in a Christian context. The combination of the Christ child in the guise of a shepherd with saints, a fountain, vegetation and animals suggests the richness of the natural world. The seated sleeping Christ child is reminiscent of images of the sleeping Buddha. Ivory carving had a long tradition on the Indian subcontinent, and elaborate works of art were made, particularly as diplomatic gifts, often presented to Western rulers. Most of the ivory would have been exported from Mozambique in East Africa to be carved in Goa by local craftsmen.

Goa was the second base in India to be established by the Portuguese, having been conquered by Alfonso de Albuquerque (about 1453-1515) during the reign of Manuel I of Portugal initially in 1510, and then reconquered in 1512. Portugal was interested first and foremost in trade, and the discovery of India was motivated by a desire to dominate trade-routes. But the Christian settlers and missionaries were also keen to convert the native populace to Christianity, and religious images in ivory were commissioned to assist in this. Some were exported to Europe, but others evidently remained and were used for evangelical purposes. From the sixteenth century onwards, the four main missionary Orders (Augustinians, Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans) built churches and aimed to convert the inhabitants of India. Despite the control of the Church over subject matter, the iconography of Indian art also permeated Christian ivories; the most obvious and at the same time strangest instance of this is the Mount of the Good Shepherd.

Physical description

Christ is shown as a child dressed as a shepherd, and perched on top of the mount, his chin resting on his right hand. He sits with ankles crossed and eyes closed and holding a lamb in his left hand, while another perches on his left shoulder. Three leafy branches fan out from the back of the group; in the central branch is a half-length relief of God the Father holding an orb in his left hand, and blessing with his right, and above him the dove as the Holy Spirit. Below is a mount with a fountain, from which sheep are drinking. This is flanked by St Joseph and the Virgin. Beneath, St Mary Magdalene reclines reading a book, beside a crucifix, and animals, including lions, rabbits, dogs and sheep. The back in decorated with a criss-cross pattern scratched into the surface. The main body of the sculpture rests on a separately carved base. Two small holes are visible on either side of the base, and two more are to be seen at the back of the foliage, behind God the Father.

Place of Origin

Goa (made)

Date

ca. 1650 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory with traces of polychromy

Dimensions

Height: 43 cm, Width: 15 cm, Depth: 8 cm, Height: 435 mm, Width: 215 mm, Depth: 100 mm

Descriptive line

Group, ivory, 'The Mount of the Good Shepherd', Indo-Portuguese (Goa), ca. 1650

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

Theuerkauff, Christian, Elfenbein Sammlung Reiner Winkler (Munich, 1984), pp. 224-5
Collin, F., 'The Good Shepherd Ivory Carvings of Goa and their Symbolism', in: Apollo, vol.120 (September 1984), pp. 170-5
p. 369
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013
p. 43, pl. 1.35 and p. 329
Snodin, Michael and Llewellyn, Nigel (eds.), Baroque 1620-1800. Style in the Age of Magnificence, exh. cat., V&A Publishing, London, 2009
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, p. 369, cat. no. 362

Labels and date

The Infant Christ as the Good Shepherd
1675–1750

This intricate carving differs considerably from European depictions of Christ as the Good Shepherd. The composition is unique to Goan ivories, and many examples have survived. Catholic missionaries tried to control indigenous depictions of Christian subjects but they did not always succeed.

India (Goa)

Ivory, with traces of paint

Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh FSA [09.12.2015]

Production Note

made by an Indo-Portuguese artist

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Hand carving; Painting

Subjects depicted

Book; Dogs; Cross; Lamb; Sheep; Rabbits; Lions

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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