The Mount of the Good Shepherd
- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given to the V&A by Professor G. Evelyn Hutchinson in memory of Sah Oved
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
South Asia, Room 41, case 14
Indian ivory carvers blended Christian subject matter with representation of their own natural surroundings. The imagery here includes lush vegetation and wild cockerel, deer and monkeys. Also shown is St John the Baptist at the top right, and below the reclining Magdalene reading a book with a skull beside her.
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'. This is a common subject in Indo-Portuguese ivories, and seems to be unique to Goa. The figure of God the Father, carved in relief above the Christ Child, represents the Holy Spirit. Although the precise parallels and/or sources in Indian are uncertain, this distinctive composition recurs again and again in Goan ivories, and the combination of the Christ Child in the guise of the shepherd with saints, a fountain, vegetation and animals suggest the richness of the natural world, in conjunction with Christian imagery.
This carved ivory group represents the Mount of the Good Shepherd. The figure of the Christ Child which would have been at the apex is missing. The figures below include an angel on a fountain flanked by St John the Baptist and now headless (probably) St Dominic, holding a crucifix, and with a dog at his feet. Underneath is the reclining figure of St Mary Magdalene with a book, jar of ointment and a skull. Four birds drink from the fountain. Two monkeys crouch at either side. Further over at the left side is the seated sleeping figure of St Peter in a cave-like niche, holding a skull in his left hand, and resting his right elbow on a book. On his left is a cockerel on a column, a reference to St Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crowed. Framing the niche are two serpents. Adjacent to this is another niche within which a lion is attacking a deer. On the right side are two more similar cave-like niches: in the first, again framed by serpents, St Jerome is seen praying to a crucifix; and in the second, a lion attacks a deer. Sheep are carved around the back of the piece, which itself is decorated with a geometric diamond pattern. On the base of both sides are a seated monkey, a grazing hog and a deer. Beneath the fountain St Mary Magdalene reclines with a skull and pot of ointment, and a small crucifix. Beneath are three cherubim.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Height: 25.5 cm, Width: 14 cm at the base
Object history note
This object was created in the Portuguese colony of Goa in the seventeenth-century. It was given to the V&A by Professor G. Evelyn Hutchinson in memory of Sah Oved, in 1984.
Historical significance: Similar ivories are to be found in most large collections and there are several exemplars of this subject in the V&A. This piece is however outstanding in its size and the complexity of its decoration.
Historical context note
Goa (on the West Coast of India) was a Portuguese colony at this time, and the style of carving combines Indian with European traditions. This subject is particular to Goan Indo-Portuguese ivories.
Figure group, ivory, 'The Mount of the Good Shepherd', Indo-Portuguese (Goa), ca. 1650
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Bernardo Ferrão de Tavares e Távora, Imaginária Luso-Oriental, Lisbon, Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1983, pp. 84-93.
pp. 370, 371
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, pp. 370, 371, cat. no. 364
Labels and date
Indian ivory carvers blended Christian subject matter with representation of their own natural surroundings. The imagery here includes lush vegetation and wild cockerel, deer and monkeys.
Also shown is St John the Baptist at the top right, and below the reclining Magdalene reading a book with a skull beside her. [March 2009]
Fountain; Lizard; Deer; Monkey; Lion; Fish; Jar; Bird; Sheep; Column; Book; Dog; Angel; Cockerel; Skull; Hog; Cherubim; Christianity; Serpent; Crucifix
Sculpture; Religion; Christianity