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Figure group - The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

  • Object:

    Figure group

  • Place of origin:

    Goa (Indo-Portuguese, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1650 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Museum number:

    A.38-1921

  • Gallery location:

    South Asia, Room 41, case 14

This object was created in the Portuguese colony of Goa in about 1650. Similar ivories are to be found in most large collections and there are several exemplars in the V&A. 'The Mount of Christ as the Good Shepherd' 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. His seated pose, asleep, recalls images of the Buddha in Indian art. Ivory carving had a long tradition on the Indian subcontinent, and elaborate works of art were made, particularly as diplomatic gifts, often presented to Western rulers. Most of the ivory would have been exported from Mozambique in East Africa.

Physical description

Group figure in carved ivory. The Christ Child as the Good Shepherd is seated above a mount formed by three tiers; at the top birds and sheep drink from a fountain; below are five sheep. Above the Good Shepherd is a separate relief of God the Father. The Christ Child is seated asleep resting his cheek against his right hand, his ankles crossed. He wears a gourd bottle slung round his waist, and a wallet round his right shoulder. On his left knee he holds a lamb. The base is hollowed out to form three caves, in the centre of which St Mary Magdalene reclines reading a book, while in the other two are lions. The stem at the back with God the Father and a dove representing the Holy Spirit has five pairs of stumps with holes, into which ivory branches would have been fitted. The four holes on the rounded base in which the Christ Child sits would probably have held four more branches.

Place of Origin

Goa (Indo-Portuguese, made)

Date

ca. 1650 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory

Dimensions

Height: 24.6 cm

Object history note

This object was created in the Portuguese colony of Goa in about 1650. It was bought in London in 1921 from J.W. Brooks.
Similar ivories are to be found in most large collections and there are several exemplars in the V&A.
This is a common subject in Indo-Portuguese ivories. 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.

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.

Descriptive line

Figure group, ivory, 'The Mount of the Good Shepherd', Indo-Portuguese (Goa), ca. 1650

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

Pr. Strzygowski, Origin of Christian Church Art, trans. O.M. Dalton and H.J. Braunholtz, 1924, pp. 122, 158
pp. 113-114, pl. XCI
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929
n. 4 on p. 225
Theuerkauff, Christian, ed. Elfenbein, Sammlung Reiner Winkler, Vol I (of two volumes), Munich, 1984
Trusted, Marjorie, ‘The Same but Different: Baroque Ivories and Reproductions’, in: Cupperi, W. (ed.), Multiples in Pre-Modern Art, Zurich, 2013
fig. 10
Trusted, Marjorie, ‘Survivers of a Shipwreck: Ivories from a Manila Galleon of 1601’, in: Hispanic Research Journal, vol. 14, no. 5, 2013
pp. 368, 369
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, pp. 368, 369, cat. no. 361
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, pp. 113-114, pl. XCI

Labels and date

The Mount of Christ as the Good Shepherd 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. [March 2009]

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Book; Fountain; Gourd; Christianity; Wallet; Lamb; Birds

Categories

Christianity; Sculpture; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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