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Diptych - The Salting Diptych

The Salting Diptych

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Westminster (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca.1310-1320 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 4

This diptych, named after the person who donated it to the Museum (George Salting), is one of the comparatively rare Gothic ivories to be unequivocally accepted as English (probably Westminster). Thicker than any existing French ivory relief - each leaf measures 2.6cm in depth - the style of the figures of Christ and of the Virgin and Child has traditionally been associated with late 13th and early 14th century work at Westminster and with the Eleanor Crosses erected in the early 1290s to commemorate the death of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I. There are also parallels with slightly later sculptures, such as the Percy tomb at Beverley (about 1330-1340).

The use of the ogee arch and the unusual, monumental form of the individual figures - as opposed to the smaller and more crowded scenes from the Gospels found on French ivories - reinforce the idea that this was produced in England, probably in a court workshop. In effect, the figures have the appearance of small free-standing statues enclosed within niches, or of three-dimensional Northern versions of the full-length figures found in Italian 14th-century painted predella panels.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Salting Diptych has been recognised as probably the grandest English Gothic ivory carving to survive.

Physical description

Diptych, carved from ivory, with the Virgin and Child and Christ Blessing. The Christ-Child is holding an apple in his left hand, and reaching toward the flower held in the Virgin's right hand. The blessing Christ holds in his left an open book, with text inscribed. The figures are carved in high relief and each stands within a deep niche below trefoil ogee arches with foliate crockets . The two parts are held together by two small hinges. The latter and probably the clasp on the outer edge are not original; the hinges replace three earlier hinges, the position of which are indicated by later ivory insertions and the remains of pinholes along the inner edge of each leaf. The gilded decoration of the hair, beard, borders of draperies, and small rosettes of the frame is not original but overlays a similar scheme, thus giving an accurate impression of the original appearance.

Place of Origin

Westminster (probably, made)


ca.1310-1320 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory

Marks and inscriptions

I am the Lord thy God, Jesus Christ, who made, redeemed, and will save you
Inscription on the book held by Christ


Height: 21.5 cm, Width: 16 cm open, Depth: 2.6 cm, Weight: 0.92 kg

Object history note

The diptych was formerly in the collections of Francis Douce (1757-1834), London, as possibly to be identified with the 'fine ivory diptych' seen by him in the collection of Sir Joseph Banks, Soho Square in 1814 and acquired the following year from a man named Smith (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce e. 67, fol. 22); it then passed with the Doucean Museum to Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick, Goodrich Court, Hertfordshire, by 1836; by 1890 in the collection of Frédéric Spitzer, Paris; bought by George Salting, London, at the Spitzer sale, Paris, 17 April 1893 (lot 145); Salting Bequest to the Museum in 1910 (no. 1158).

Historical significance: This diptych, known as the Salting Diptych, is, along with Grandisson triptych in the British Museum, among the most celebrated English Gothic ivory carvings.Comparisons have been drwan between the style of the figures and that of the sculptures of the Eleanor cross and royal tombs in Westminster Abbey of the early 1290s, and parallels made with the sculpture and paintings of the Westminster Abbey sedilia of about 1308.

Historical context note

The uniqueness of the present diptych, both in type and facture (it is probably the thickest ivory relief from the Gothic period), suggests strongly that it was a special commission, made as a precious object of private devotion for an important patron close to the court circle. When closed, the diptych forms a compact - if solid -shape and would fit neatly into a leather carrying case for safe travel.

Descriptive line

Diptych, ivory, 'The Salting Diptych', with the Virgin and Child and Christ Blessing, English, probably made in Westminster, ca. 1310-1320

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

Paul Williamson, ed., European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London : V&A, 1996, p. 78
'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. 89
Porter, D. A. Ivory Carvings in later medieval England 1200-1400. State University of New York at Binghampton, PhD dissertation, 1974, pp. 98-102, cat. no. 168
Wixom, William D. 'A late thirteenth-century English ivory Virgin, in: Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, L, 1987, pp. 355-57, fig. 11
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 6
pp. xc (ill.), and 179
Maskell, W. A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, pp. 110, 149, 161, III, pl. XXXIII
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
pp. 159, 210, pl. 246
Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires du Moyen Age. Fribourg, 1978
pp. 18, 42, pl. 25
Williamson, Paul. An Introduction to Medieval Ivory Carvings, London, 1982
pp. 200-01
Williamson, Paul (ed.), The Medieval Treasury: the art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1986
part 1, pp. 248-251
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
p. 258
Westwood, J O. A descriptive catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum. With an Account of the Continental Collections of Classical and Mediaeval Ivories. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1876
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. 248-251, cat. no. 79





Subjects depicted

Flowers; Book; Arch


Images Online; Sculpture; Religion


Sculpture Collection

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