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Scenes from the Passion of Christ; The Crucifixion, the Deposition from the Cross, The Entombment and the Lamentation

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Israel (possibly, made)
    Istanbul, Turkey (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    early 12th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory with traces of paint

  • Museum number:

    5-1872

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, room 111, case DR10

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During the period 900-1200, ivories were produced all over Europe, often in monasteries and ecclesiastical or royal courts. Ivory carvings appeared on book covers, reliquary caskets, antependia (the panel in front of an altar) and religious icons.
The plaque is the biggest ivory panel of the Middle Byzantine period recorded, and is comparable in size to conuslar diptychs.

Its original function however, remains unclear. The three large holes in the borders at top and bottom, which could have held pegs to secure ivory strips onto which would be fitted the wings, might indicate that it served as the centre of a triptych. Against this, the rough appearance of the back suggests that it was never meant to be seen, and was instead intended to be mounted in a larger ensemble of narrative plaques, perhaps as part of an altar frontal or other item of church furniture. Notwithstanding the evidence for Byzantine book-covers being virtually non-existent, this use also needs to be considered. The plaque certainly appears to have been re-employed in a secondary context, and a hole drilled vertically through the upper border (which has since cracked) indicates that it was at one time hung on a wall as an icon.

Physical description

Relief in ivory with traces of colour. In two compartments; in the upper is the Crucifixion, on the left stand the Virgin and St. John, on the right Longinus, beside him the centurion and, behind, Stephaton with the sponge; by an apparent misunderstanding of the attitudes of the figures the bucket has been transferred from Stephaton to Longinus; above are the Sun and Moon, and two angels. In the lower compartment the body of Christ is lowered from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea, assisted by Nicodemus, who takes the nails from his left hand, and by the Virgin, who holds his right arm; St. John stands on the right of the cross lamenting, above are four angels. Below, the body of Christ is laid in the tomb by two disciples and the Virgin, who kneels at his head; three angels fly above.

Place of Origin

Israel (possibly, made)
Istanbul, Turkey (possibly, made)

Date

early 12th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory with traces of paint

Dimensions

Height: 32 cm left, Height: 32.1 cm right, Width: 13.5 cm at centre, Width: 12.9 cm at top and bottom, Weight: 11 oz

Object history note

Purchased from Webb in 1872 (£100).
The plaque is the biggest ivory panel of the Middle Byzantine period recorded, and is comparable in size to conuslar diptychs.

Historical context note

Its original function however, remains unclear. The three large holes in the borders at top and bottom, which could have held pegs to secure ivory strips onto which would be fitted the wings, might indicate that it served as the centre of a triptych. Against this, the rough appearance of the back suggests that it was never meant to be seen, and was instead intended to be mounted in a larger ensemble of narrative plaques, perhaps as part of an altar frontal or other item of church furniture. Notwithstanding the evidence for Byzantine book-covers being virtually non-existent, this use also needs to be considered. The plaque certainly appears to have been re-employed in a secondary context, and a hole drilled vertically through the upper border (which has since cracked) indicates that it was at one time hung on a wall as an icon.

Descriptive line

Panel, ivory, depicting the Crucifixion, the Deposition and the Entombment, Byzantine or the Holy Land, early 12th century

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

Rice, David Talbot. Masterpieces of Byzantine art : sponsored by the Edinburgh Festival Society and arranged in association with the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. [Edinburgh] : Edinburgh Festival Society, 1958.
Cutler, Anthony. The hand of the master : craftsmanship, ivory, and society in Byzantium (9th-11th centuries). Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1994, p.54 & p.82.
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1872, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O. p. 1.
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929. Part I. p. 46.
Goldschmidt, A. and Weitzmann, K. Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X. - XIII. Jahrhunderts, Zweiter Band: Reliefs, Berlin, 1934 (reprinted, Berlin, 1979), cat.no. 23
Cf. Weitzmann, Kurt. The Origin of the Threnos. In: Meiss, Millard, ed. De Artibus Opuscula XL: Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky. New York: Univ. Press, 1961. 1. p. 486. II. p. 165. fig. 15.
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 122-125, cat.no. 28

Exhibition History

Master Pieces of Byzantine Art (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/10/1958-09/11/1958)
Masterpieces of Byzantine Art (01/10/1958-09/11/1958)
Masterpieces of Byzantine Art (23/08/1958-12/09/1958)

Materials

Paint; Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Mary (Virgin Mary); Angels; St. John the Baptist; Jesus Christ; Joseph (of Arimethaea); Nicodemus; Longinus; Stephaton

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Death

Collection code

SCP

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Qr_O88414
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