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The Crucifixion

  • Object:

    Book cover

  • Place of origin:

    Metz (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 860 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory carved in high relief

  • Museum number:

    251:1, 2-1867

  • Gallery location:

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

This ivory plaque or book cover was made in France (Metz) in about 860. Ivory was used all over Europe for religious works of art. It was often combined with precious metals and usually took the form of relief panels, for book covers, portable altars and caskets. An almost unbroken tradition of ivory carving extends from the Roman and Byzantine empires until the end of the 14th century. From about 1250, Paris became the centre of production for figures and reliefs intended for private devotion. This plaque is taken from one of the book covers of the Gandersheim Gospels, which were written in Metz under bishop Adventius (858-875).

Physical description

Ivory, carved in high relief with the Crucifixion. Christ is shown in the centre, above, the titulus on the cross carries the words IHS NAZA / RENVS RE(X). Above are the personifications of the Sun and Moon. To the right an angel is bowing before Christ. To the left are the Virgin and Ecclesia holding a two-handled cup to collect Christ's blood, and on the right St. John and Synagoga (shown with a halo), holding a banner in her right hand and walking away from the cross. Below are Longinius on the left and Stephaton on the right, with the heads of six of the resurrected looking out of their tombs on both sides. In the lower left and right corner are the personifications of Earth and Sea, holding an oar and sitting on a hippocamp, and Earth, holding a branch, the latter with a serpent wrapped around her right arm and her two children behind her. The border is of fine acanthus fronds with a running line of bead-and-reel on the inside and a plain rebate on the outside.

Place of Origin

Metz (made)

Date

ca. 860 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory carved in high relief

Marks and inscriptions

'IHS NAZA / RENVS RE(X)'
on the cross

Dimensions

Height: 23.2 cm, Width: 11.1 cm at top, Width: 11.5 cm at bottom, Depth: 1.8 cm, Weight: 0.24 kg

Object history note

Formerly in the Webb collection, purchased from Webb, £33.

Historical significance: The iconographic scheme is close to the ivory with the Crucifixion from the cathedrale in Verdun (250-1867). It belongs to a group of ivories made in the third quarter of the ninth century with a tendency to symmetrical order. The throne in St Peter, which is embellished with ivory carvings is the major work of this group. The throne was given by Charles the Bald in about 870/5 to the Pope.

Historical context note

Probably for one of the book-covers of the Gandersheim Gospels, which were written in Metz under bishop Adventius (858-875). The other, depicting the Resurrection, together with the manuscript, is now in the Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg. The Gandersheim Gospels belonged once to Queen Aedgifu, sister of King Aethelstan of England and widow of Charles the Simple, King of the West Franks. Otto's I wife, Editha was a sister of King Aethelstan and the son of Aedgifu married the sister of Otto I. This may explain why the Gospel book came to the Imperial Ottonian convent at Gandersheim in Saxony where it was first recorded at the beginning of the 11th century.

Descriptive line

Plaque and book cover, ivory, the Crucifixion, France (Metz), ca. 860

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

Longhurst, M. Carvings in Ivory, vol. 1, London, 1927, p. 67.
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 182-185, cat.no. 44
Brandt, Michael et al., Bernward von Hildesheim und das Zeitalter der Ottonen, Hildesheim: Zabern, 1993.

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

High relief; Carving

Subjects depicted

Moon; Sun; Hippocamp; Angel; Tombs; Banner; Cross; Cup; Serpent; Oar

Categories

Christianity; Sculpture; Religion; Plaques & Plaquettes

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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