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Symbol of St John the Baptist

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Northern Italy (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 800 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ivory, with remains of paint

  • Museum number:

    269-1867

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 11

This ivory carving depicts an eagle, the symbol of St John the Evangelist. The back of the plaque shows that it was carved from a Late Antique diptych leaf: the raised borders typical of such pieces remain at the left and at the top, but the right side has been reduced from its original width.
The present plaque clearly belongs to three others of the same format and style and all four must have come from the same object. Two of the plaques - one with a bust of Christ, the other with a bust of an angel - are in the Museo Nazional in Ravenna. The fourth carries the symbol of Saint Luke (the bull). The London and Ravenna plaques have been in Ravenna by the 13th or 14th century, when the reverses were inscribed. It is not known when the diptych was dismembered to make the surviving plaques.
The plaque can be dated aroud 800 and was made by a group of artists with close links to Charlemagne' court at Aachen. It shows an awareness of space and three-dimensional form closer to the antique than other Court School works.

Physical description

Ivory Panel with traces of paint. The panel is depicting an eagle, the symbol of St. John the Evangelist. The eagle holds a book in its claws in a roundel of bead and reel ornament set within a square border of acanthus, with fleshy leaves in the spandrels. Good condition, two holes have been drilled between the roundels and the lateral borders.
There are several lines of writing in ink at the back, now difficult to read.

Place of Origin

Northern Italy (probably, made)

Date

ca. 800 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Ivory, with remains of paint

Marks and inscriptions

'Confer opem misero...acidie nene...'
small hand at the back, might read as stated.

'die dominica.../ ego R(icardus)[?] Laurentius [?] resepi de / ...'
larger cursive hand at the back, seems to contain the words

'Ego Ricardus...anno d[?] / de veneris martii recepi...'
in liturgical hand at the back, seems to contain the words

Dimensions

Height: 11.8 cm, Width: 12.5 cm, Depth: 0.8 cm, Weight: 0.16 kg

Object history note

Bought from John Webb in 1867.
The reains of red and green paint are not original and have probably been added at a post-medieval date. The back of the plaque shows that it was carved from a Late Antique diptych leaf: the raised borders typical of such pieces remain at the left and at the top, but the right side has been reduced from its original width.
The present plaque clearly belongs to three others of the same format and style and all four must have come from the same object. Two of the plaques - one with a bust of Christ, the other with a bust of an angel - are in the Museo Nazional in Ravenna. The fourth carries the symbol of Saint Luke (the bull). The London and Ravenna plaques have been in Ravenna by the 13th or 14th century, when the reverses were inscribed. It is not known when the diptych was dismembered to make the surviving plaques.

Historical context note

The plaques originally formed part of a diptych, perhaps the cover of a diptych-book, with three panels to each leaf.

Descriptive line

Panel, ivory, the symbol of St. John the Evangelist, Carolingian, probably North Italy, ca. 800

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. 164-167, cat.no. 40
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927. Part I, p. 63
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1867. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 10
Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, p. 117, pl. 210
van den Brink, P. and Ayooghi, S. (eds.). Karl der Grosse: Karls Kunst. Dresden, 2014, pp. 190-93
Ayooghi, Sarvenaz, Pohle, Frank and van der Brink, Peter, ed. by, Karl Charlemagne Der Grosse, Aachen, Sandstein Verlag, 2014, exh. cat., pp. 108-109

Materials

Paint; Ivory

Techniques

Hand carving

Subjects depicted

Foliage; Ornament; Book; Eagle; Acanthus

Categories

Images Online; Christianity; Religion; Sculpture; Plaques & Plaquettes

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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