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The Holy Trinity

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    France (Paris or possibly England, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1350-1400 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case DR9

This is an elephant ivory pax of the Holy Trinity, made in France (Paris) or possibly England in the second half of the fourteenth century. It depicts the Holy Trinity and the relief is worn smooth, presumably by kissing, in the area of Christ's head.

A pax is a tablet or board, sometimes of silver, usually decorated with a Christian religious representation. A pax was used at the end of mass as part of the ‘Kiss of Peace’ ritual after the Angus Dei. First the priest would kiss the tablet, then the members of the congregation. England was precocious in introducing the pax, but references abound elsewhere from the beginning of the fourteenth century onwards. Paxes could be made from many materials, including wood, copper, silver and gold, as well as ivory.
The earliest, fourteenth-century, examples are invariably decorated with the Crucifixion, but the imagery rapidly diversified to take in other scenes connected with the Christ’s Passion and Sacrifice. By the fifteenth century the choice had expanded, with many scenes of the Virgin and Child.

Physical description

Within a border studded with rosettes against a diaper background, God the Father with cruciform nimbus is seated on a wide throne with blind arcading, its ends issuing in foliate volutes; the dove of the Holy Spirit emanates from God's mouth, its beak touching the head of the crucified Christ; the ends of the Cross, now broken, are held by God; sol and luna, normal accompaniments tothe Crucifixion, are shown in the top corners. The head of Christ on the Cross has been worn smooth by the kisses of the faithful. The background is covered with diaper ornament. The grooved border is decorated with rosettes.

Place of Origin

France (Paris or possibly England, made)


ca. 1350-1400 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 10.3 cm, Width: 7.8 cm at top, Width: 8.1 cm at base

Object history note

Bought in 1867. Recorded in the Museum register is that the Pax was bought from Mr. Wilson in 1867 (for £2 10s); this must have been Samuel Wilson, a 'curiosity dealer' trading from the Strand in London.

Descriptive line

Pax, plaque, elephant ivory, of the Holy Trinity, France (Paris) or possibly English, second half of the fourteenth century

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

[PhD Dissertation] Porter, D. A. Ivory Carving in Later Medieval England 1200-1400. State University of New York, 1974, cat. no., 40
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 7
Alexander, Jonathan and Binski, Paul eds. Age of Chivalry: art in Plantagenet England, 1200-1400. London: Royal Academy of Arts: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987, p. 479
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1867. 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. 8
pp. 75-76
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, pp. 226, 330, II, cat. no. 508 bis, II, pl. XCI
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
Richter, T., Paxtafeln und Pacificalia. Studien zu Form, Ikonographie und liturgischem Gebrauch, Weimar, 2003, p. 209
p. 71
Randall Jr., Richard H. The Golden Age of Ivory. Gothic Carvings in North American Collections, New York, 1993
part 1, pp. 394-395
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. 394-395, cat. no. 137





Subjects depicted

Moon; Trinity, doctrine in Christianity; Dove; Halo; Sun; Throne; Cross; Robes


Christianity; Sculpture; Religion


Sculpture Collection

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