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  • Place of origin:

    Gdansk (made)

  • Date:

    1625-1650 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Amber and ivory on a wooden carcase

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 6, The Lisa and Bernard Selz Gallery, case CA11

This monumental amber and ivory altar is from Danzig (now Gdansk), and was probably produced in the second quarter of the 17th century. The form of the altar resembles mid-17th century North German wall monuments. The central amber relief of the Adoration of the Shepherds is based on a Netherlandish print, and engraved sources are also likely to have been used for the ivory reliefs also to be seen here. Few parallels can be cited for such an elaborate work of art in amber.

Physical description

This altar stands on four ivory cushion feet. It has a carcase of wood with applied amber and ivory panels and relief. The front displays scenes and figures from the New Testament. In the centre is a relief of the Adoration of the Shepherds. On the back is a perpetual calendar, and further Biblical scenes. Great attention has been given to details.

Place of Origin

Gdansk (made)


1625-1650 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Amber and ivory on a wooden carcase


Height: 1232 mm, Width: 525 mm, Depth: 380 mm base

Object history note

NB. While the term ‘cripple’ has been used in this record, it has since fallen from usage and is now considered offensive. The term is repeated in this record in its original historical context.

Formerly in the collection of Sir E. Naylor Leyland. Sold at the sale of contents of Hyde Park House, 11 June 1923, lot 186

Descriptive line

Altar, of amber and ivory on a wooden carcase, Gdansk, second quarter of the 17th century

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

Trusted, Marjorie. Catalogue of European Ambers in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1985. 119 p., ill. ISBN 0948107138, cat. no. 9
Marcos, Estella M. M., La Escultura Barroca de Marfil en España, Madrid, 1984, II, pp. 336-7
Grimaldi, D. A. Amber: Window to the Past, American Museum of Natural History, 1996, p. 172

Labels and date

Polish (Gdansk, Poland); about 1650
Amber and ivory on wood carcase
Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh F.S.A.

Amber was used to adorn precious religious and secular object in Poland, Denmark and Prussia especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Often, as here, it was combined with ivory. This imposing altar is one of the most impressive of such works to survive. On the front are scenes from the New Testament, while on the back are Old Testament scenes, and a perpetual calendar.
[1993 - 2011]

Production Note

Gdansk (Danzig)


Amber; Ivory

Subjects depicted

Cancer symbol; Zodiac symbol; Virgo symbol; Winged ox; Column; Festoons; Taurus symbol; Fruit; Shepherd; Sagittarius symbol; Architecture; Donkey; Scorpio symbol; Vine; Capricorn symbol; Leo symbol; Flower; Eagle; Whale; Evangelists; Libra symbol; Apostle; Ox; Cherubim; Angel; Pisces symbol; Bird; Winged lion; Gemini symbol; Aries symbol; Aquarius symbol


Christianity; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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