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The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (Tota Pulchra); with St John the Baptist, St Francis of Assisi, St John the Evangelist and St Anthony of Padua

  • Object:

    Triptych

  • Place of origin:

    China (or Hispano-filipino, made)
    Portugal (possibly, made)
    Macau (possibly, made)
    Japan (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1600 - ca. 1620 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased from Don Jose Calcerrada, Madrid, in 1863, for 50 francs, by John Charles Robinson

  • Museum number:

    99 to B-1864

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case DR6 []

Ivory was popular as a material for religious subjects, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries. Spanish and Portuguese patrons imported ivories carved with Christian imagery from their territories overseas, such as the Philippines, Mexico and Goa. German and Netherlandish artists were renowned for their dexterity in ivory carving. Their reliefs are masterpieces of composition and virtuosity. This small, portable triptych was made for devotional purposes. Its two side wings were hinged so they could close over the central relief.

The subject, known as "Tota Pulchra", is derived from images of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. The Virgin is surrounded by appropriate symbols. The wings of this miniature triptych depict St. John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist (above), and St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua (below). The frame is distinctively Chinese. Similar reliefs were carved in Canton and in the Philippines by Chinese sculptors for the Spanish market.

A relief close in style and subject, similarly showing the Tota Pulchra, was on board the Santa Margarita, a Manila galleon bound for Acapulco, which was wrecked in 1601, some of whose cargo was excavated from the Pacific Ocean in 2006 by Jack Harbeston and IOTA Partners. The date of the Santa Margarita wreck implies that the subject was being carved in this format in 1600, and the form is likely to have continued in the following years, giving an approximate date span for the present piece.

Physical description

Ivory triptych; in the centre, the Assumption of the Virgin surrounded by emblematical devices and label scrolls on which are written Latin inscriptions being encomniastic liturgical epithets; on the wings, St John the Baptist, St Francis of Assisi, St John the Evangelist and St Anthony of Padua. The tops of all three wings are scalloped, and the edges moulded. Inscriptions are on the scrolls.

Place of Origin

China (or Hispano-filipino, made)
Portugal (possibly, made)
Macau (possibly, made)
Japan (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1600 - ca. 1620 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory

Marks and inscriptions

'ELECTA VT SOL'
'chosen as the sun'
on the left panel; under the sun

'PORTA CAELI'
'gateway to heaven'
left panel; under the temple

'SICVT LILIVM'
'as [pure as] the lily'
left panel; under the lily

'SPECVLVM SIN'
'a mirror without [sin]'
left panel; under the mirror

'IVTEVSA VARGA'
meaning uncertain; probably a garbled version of the rod of Jesse, 'Virga Iesse'
left panel; under the vessel

'HORTVS CONCLVS'
'en enclosed garden'
left panel; under the block

'TIMELVM DEI'
again, probably garbled, meaning 'templum Dei', 'the temple of God'
left panel; under the round temple

'PVLCHRA LUNA'
'[as] beautiful [as the] moon'
on the right panel; under the moon

'STELLA MARIS'
'star of the sea'
on the right panel; under the star

'SCALA CELI'
'the ladder to heaven'
on the right panel; under the steps into the clouds

'VASI CLERESVS'
[meaning uncertain]
on the right panel; under the tree

'ELANATI'
[meaning uncertain]
on the right panel; under the plant and berries

'[F]ONS [H]ORTORVM'
'the fountain of gardens'
on the right panel; under the pot with cover

'CIVITAS DEI'
'the city of God'
on the right panel; under the city

'TVRRIS DAVID'
'the tower of David'
on the right panel; under the tower and cross

'TOTA SVIS MRA/EST AMICAM/EAE IMACVLANS/ESTVNTE'
[exact meaning uncertain, although clearly a reference to the Immaculate Conception]
under God the Father

Dimensions

Height: 14.6 cm, Width: 18 cm open, Width: 8.8 cm of central panel, Width: 4.4 cm of left panel, Width: 4.4 cm of right panel

Object history note

The inscriptions on the object were probably transcribed by an artist whose knowledge of Latin or indeed Western alphabet was non-existent, this is why some of the words and phrases are seemingly incomprehensible. This ivory was almost certainly intended for a Franciscan individual or community, and the iconography would have been dictated by a Franciscan. The Oriental features of the faces, as well as the stylised clouds beneath the Virgin in the central panel, suggest that this piece was made for the Spanish market in the Philippines by Chinese or Filipino craftsmen.

Descriptive line

Triptych, ivory, 'The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception' ('Tota Pulchra'), Hispano-filipino or Chinese, ca. 1600-1620

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

Estella Marcos, Margarita M. La escultura barroca de marfil en España : las escuelas europeas y las coloniales. Madrid : Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto "Diego Velázquez," 1984, vol. 1, fig. 328 and vol. 2, p.328.
Clunas, C. Chinese carving. [London] : Victoria & Albert Museum : Sun Tree Publishing, 1996, p.17, fig.5.
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1864 In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 40.
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929. Part II. p. 112.
Ferrão, "Notas sobre a Arte Indo-Portuguesa", Colóquio, 52, February 1969, p. 20.
pp. 352, 353
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013
fig. 13
Trusted, Marjorie, ‘Survivers of a Shipwreck: Ivories from a Manila Galleon of 1601’, in: Hispanic Research Journal, vol. 14, no. 5, 2013
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, pp. 352, 353, cat. no. 347

Labels and date

The subject, known as "Tota Pulchra", is derived from images of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. The Virgin is surrounded by appropriate symbols. The wings of this miniature triptych depict St. John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist (above), and St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua (below). The frame is distinctively Chinese. Similar reliefs were carved in Canton and in the Philippines by Chinese sculptors for the Spanish market. []

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Tower; Cross; Temple; Moon; Berries; Lily; Scrolls; Sun; Mirror; Plant; Tree; Ladder; Pot; Clouds; Star; City; Vessel

Categories

Christianity; Sculpture; Religion; Reliefs

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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