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The Virgin and Child

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    France (or possibly Italy, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1320-1340 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory, painted and gilded.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory tabernacle polyptych made in France or possibly Italy, in about 1320-1340.
The term tabernacle polyptych has been used here (ref. Williamson and Davies) to describe an object which consists of a deep central chamber with canopy, usually containing the Virgin and Child, and four hinged wings with narrative scenes, which would distinguish them from the smaller category of simpler polyptychs, which are made up of a series of plaques hinged together but with no central tabernacle.
A feature that links most tabernacle polyptychs together is the method of facture: Although the Virgins in the tabernacles appear from the front to be statuettes they are with few exceptions carved integrally with the back and base panels, which is remarkably skilful.
During the 14th century specialist ivory craftsmen carved both secular and religious objects in great numbers. Although Paris was the main centre of production, other workshops emerged in Italy and Germany. Some of the craftsmen may have been trained in Paris as their work often combines French and local styles.

Physical description

In the centre, under a canopy supported on slender columns, stands the Virgin, crowned and with a painted and gilded halo on the back panel. She holds a rose in her right hand and supports the Infant Christ on her left arm. On the wings are reliefs representing the Annunciation, Visitation, Adoration of the Magi, Nativity and Presentation of Christ. He holds an apple in his left hand and places his right arm around her neck. A cross nimbus, gilded, is painted on the back panel aboce his head. The tabernacle, on a stepped base plate, is set on a pedestal decorated with intarsia work.

Place of Origin

France (or possibly Italy, made)


ca. 1320-1340 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory, painted and gilded.


Height: 29.5 cm including base, Width: 15.7 cm open, Width: 5.1 cm central section, Height: 25.5 cm without base

Object history note

Formerly in the Vaïsse collection, Marseilles; Vaïsse sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 5-8 May 1885 (sold 7 May, lot 2); then in the Heckscher collection, Vienna; Heckscher sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, 4-6 May 1898, lot 192, ill.; then George Salting collection, London. Bequeathed to the V&A by Salting in 1910 (no. 2060).

Descriptive line

Tabernacle Polyptych, ivory painted and gilt, with the Virgin and Child, French or possibly Italian, ca. 1320-1340

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

'Salting Bequest (A. 70 to A. 1029-1910) / Murray Bequest (A. 1030 to A. 1096-1910)'. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Department of Architecture and Sculpture). London: Printed under the Authority of his Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, East Harding Street, EC, p. 92
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 13
Vol. I, p. 126, Vol. II, cat. no. 148
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part 1, pp. 146-149
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part 1, pp. 146-149, cat. no. 45

Production Note

the base possibly of later date and the pinnacles are modern additions.


Ivory; Gold




Christianity; Religion; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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