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Diptych - Scenes from life of Christ

Scenes from life of Christ

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    France (probably Paris , made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1350-1375 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory diptych, made in France (probably Paris), in about 1350-1375. It depicts the Virgin and Child on the left leaf and the Crucifixion on the right.
Ivory plaques were normally arranged in diptychs or triptychs. Diptychs consisted of two tablets hinged together, while triptychs were two tablets hinged on either side of a central tablet. The devotional diptych is in many ways the object type most associated with the notion of Gothic ivory carving. The earliest examples probably date to the 1240s; these are complex, large and ambitious works that emerged, somewhat surprisingly, with no obvious precursors. The owners of ivory diptychs sometimes appear within their images. Such portraits indicate that they were special requests on the part of their commissioners, and they parallel the similar figures that appear in manuscripts and panel paintings of the period. The iconography of Gothic diptychs oscillated between two poles. The first of which is the desire to present narratives (Life of Christ and Virgin Mary) for envisaging. The second was the use of non-narrative images to form the focus of devotion.

Physical description

Both wings carved with elaborate Gothic arches. In the areas to either side are roundels, each with a quatrefoil moulding and a raised point in the centre. Along the upper side of the edge is a stepped moulding.
On the left wing the Virgin with the infant Christ, flanked with St. John the Baptist, wearing a tunic of camel's hair under his robe and holding in both hands a disc on which is the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). St. Catherine holds the wheel in her left hand and a long palm branch in her right (martyr's palm). The Virgin holds an unusual object that probably represents a flower, but looks more like a small crucifix; the Christ Child holds an apple.
On the right wing, the scene of the Crucifixion: Christ hangs on a rough wooden cross. His rib-cage is delicately indicated. To the left of the cross stands the Virgin supported by the two Maries. She crosses one leg over the other, and throws her hands out to either side. The two holy women are behind, and one supports her with both hands around the upper body. To the right are St. John the Evangelist, swaying away from the cross and with his left hand raised to his face in the traditional gesture of melnacholy. John almost obscures the two figures behind, both of them wear hats to indicate that they are Jewish. The front figure points upwards to the cross, and holds a scroll, while the rear figure reacts by throwing up his hand and gazing at the figure of Christ. Above are the sun and the moon.

Place of Origin

France (probably Paris , made)


ca. 1350-1375 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory


Height: 12.9 cm, Width: 7.4 cm each leaf

Object history note

In the collection of John Salting, London, by 1909; From the Salting bequest, in 1910 (no. 2038).

Descriptive line

Diptych, ivory, Scenes from life of Christ, French (probably Paris), ca. 1350-1375

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. 26
I, pp. 216, 222, II, cat. no. 545
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part 1, pp. 284-285
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. 284-285, p. 93



Subjects depicted

Flower; Wheel; Cross


Christianity; Religion; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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