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Relief - An Emperor on Horseback

An Emperor on Horseback

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (North, possibly Milan, made)

  • Date:

    early 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Whalebone

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr Lionel Harris

  • Museum number:

    A.121 to D-1937

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 8 []

These reliefs copy part of the so-called 'Barberini diptych', an ivory relief of the first half of the 6th century, now in the Louvre in Paris. The reliefs belong to a group of forgeries of Early Christian and Byzantine Ivories, all carved from bone, which appear to have emanated from Milan in the second half of the nineteenth century. In style, facture and choice of material the two plaques clearly relate to a small group of forgeries identified by Eric Maclagan and attributed by him to a Milanese faker in the first quarter of the 19th century.
The Barberini diptych leaf was in the Barberini collection in Rome between about 1625 and 1899, but a number of errors and changes in the 19th century copy suggests that the forger was not working from the original.

Physical description

Bone carving, in three pieces. Two pieces, forming the central panel, show a horseman (an Emperor) holding a spear in his right hand and shown with a winged Victory.
To the left is a standing figure, probably a Scythian or Persian. At the bottom is Gaia, the personification of Earth.
On the lower panel in the centre is another winged Victory gesturing upwards and presenting vanquished foes who take their tributes to the Emperor: on the left Scythians and Persians advance with a lion, and carry a crown and a cylindrical container. On the right two Africans or Indians, accompanied by an elephant and a tiger.

Place of Origin

Italy (North, possibly Milan, made)

Date

early 19th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Whalebone

Dimensions

Height: 21.8 cm main plaque, Width: 13.7 cm main plaque, Height: 7.5 cm lower plaque at left, Width: 24.7 cm lower plaque

Object history note

Given by Mr Thomas Harris, The Spanish Art Gallery, London in 1937. Acquired as an 'imitation of the Barberini diptych, which will be of considerable interest' (letter of Eric Maclagan, 16 December, 1937).

Historical significance: It is immediately apparent that the two plaques are copied from the celebrated 'Barberini diptych leaf' now in the Louvre in Paris, a Constantinopolitan work of the second quarter of the 6th century. The question of whether the copyist also carved the other two surviving plaques of the original or confined himself to the present two panels must remain unanswered. In style, facture and choice of material the two plaques clearly relate to a small group of forgeries identified by Eric Maclagan and attributed by him to a Milanese faker in the first quarter of the 19th century. These four reliefs were until the 2nd World War in the Liverpool Museum but were lost to fire in 1941. They had entered the Liverpool Museum with the rest of the great collection of ivories formed by the Hungarian Gabor Fejérváry (1781-1851) and were probably purchased by him in Italy in the 1820s or 1830s.
The Barberini diptych leaf was in the Barberini collection in Rome between about 1625 and 1899, but a number of errors and changes in the 19th century copy suggests that the forger was not working from the original.

Descriptive line

Plaque, relief, whalebone carving, a forgery of the Barberini diptych, Northern Italy (possibly Milan), ealry 19th century

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

Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 432-35, cat.no. 115

Materials

Whalebone

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Horse; Woman; Lance; Emperor; Man; Lion

Categories

Sculpture; Reliefs; Fakes & forgeries

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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