Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

The Dormition of the Virgin and Saints

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Constantinople (carving)

  • Date:

    late 10th century to early 11th century (carving)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    296-1867

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 4

This is a Byzantine ivory panel made in Constantinople in the late 10th or early 11th century. The plaque formed once the centre of a triptych.
This panel depicts the Dormition of the Virgin. At the top of the Dormition, Christ stands behind the Virgin's bed, taking her soul up to Heaven. In the middle row are Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Paul and Peter; at the bottom Sts. Cosmas, Damian, Nicholas and John Chrysostom.

The Death of the Virgin is depicted at the top, a scene which does not show the moment of the Virgin's death but the moment at which Christ comes to take away her soul after death. The story of the Death of the Virgin comes from the Apocryphal New Testament and appears very often in Byzantine art; its importance is reflected in the dominant place it often occupies in church decoration, on the west wall of the building. The basic format of the scene varies little over centuries. Standing saints appear very frequently in all forms of Byzantine art; here they are arranged not according to the calendar but according to their hierarchical order as found in the liturgy. Sts Paul and Peter embracing is very unusual in Byzantine Art and was probably taken over from western examples. In the present context it is likely to represent the saints' final meeting before martyrdom, juxtaposed with the Virgin's death on the level above.

Physical description

An ivory panel with three registers / sections: At the top, the "Koimesis" or Death (Dormition) of the Virgin, when Christ comes to take away the soul of the Virgin after her death. She lies on her death bed, surrounded by the apostles (there are actually thirteen heads depicted), with St Paul at the foot of the bed and St. Peter swinging a censer. Christ stands behind the bed, holding up the personification of the Virgin's soul (restored). Two angels fly down on the left and a third flies up to heaven. Inscriptions above the bed. In teh middle section are St. Gregory of Nyssa and St Basil, and St Paul and St Peter embracing. On the bottom row are Sts Cosmas and Damian, St Nicholas and St John Chrysostom identified by inscriptions. On the back is a large cross with rosettes at the ends of the arms (a cross is frequently carved on the back of Byzantine ivories).

Place of Origin

Constantinople (carving)

Date

late 10th century to early 11th century (carving)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory

Marks and inscriptions

'H KOIMHCIC'
'Death of the Virgin'
Incised above of the bed of the Virgin

Dimensions

Height: 27.1 cm, Width: 13 cm at bottom, Width: 13.3 cm at top, Weight: 0.4 kg

Object history note

Formerly in the Webb collection. Acquired in 1867.
This plaque formed once the centre of a triptych.

Historical significance: The Death of the Virgin is depicted at the top, a scene which does not show the moment of the Virgin's death but the moment at which Christ comes to take away her soul after death. The story of the Death of the Virgin comes from the Apocryphal New Testament and appears very often in Byzantine art; its importance is reflected in the dominant place it often occupies in church decoration, on the west wall of the building. The basic format of the scene varies little over centuries. Standing saints appear very frequently in all forms of Byzantine art; here they are arranged not according to the calendar but according to their hierarchical order as found in the liturgy. Sts Paul and Peter embracing is very unusual in Byzantine Art and was probably taken over from western examples. In the present context it is likely to represent the saints' final meeting before martyrdom, juxtaposed with the Virgin's death on the level above.

Historical context note

The plaque exemplifies the style of the so-called 'Nikephoros Group', named by Goldschmidt and Weitzmann after the ivory panel on the Cortona Reliquary of the True Cross, which is associated by inscription with the Emperor Nikephoros II Phocas. It displays a distinctive stylistic homogeneity, with a rough but monumental style of carving and with broad and blunt facial features.

Descriptive line

Panel, ivory, depicting the Dormition of the Virgin and Saints, Byzantine (Constantinople), late 10th or early 11th century

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

P. Williamsson, The Medieval Treasury, London, 1986, p. 95
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1867. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 11
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part I, p. 43
Cutler, Anthony. The Hand of the Master : Craftsmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th centuries). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 279, n. 108
Cf. Weitzmann, Kurt. Byzantine Miniature and Icon Painting in the Eleventh Century. XIIIth international Congress of Byzantine Studies, Main Paper VII. Oxford, 1966, pl. 40, 41
Goldschmidt, A. and Weitzmann, K. Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X. - XIII. Jahrhunderts, Zweiter Band: Reliefs, Berlin, 1934 (reprinted, Berlin, 1979), cat.no. 111
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 116-119, cat.no. 26

Materials

Ivory

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Death

Collection

Sculpture Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.