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Head of a Tau Cross

Tau-Cross Head
ca. 1140-1150 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This is a head of a tau-cross made in ca. 1140-50 in northern France. The head is in walrus ivory and carved on three sides with the signs of the Zodiac and various birds and animals represented in lozenge-shaped compartments separated by bands of beaded ornament inlaid with coloured pastes. The eyes are similarly inlaid and larger stones from the intersections of the bands are now missing. On the underside are two ecclesiastics, the one holding a pastoral staff and a book, the other a tau cross.
It has been suggested that these two figures show its owner in the dual role of abbot and as bishop of a cathedral with an associated monastic community, although the heads of the figures are not identical. The signs of the Zodiac then, might represent the cosmographic context for the preaching of the Word of God. The signs of the Zodiac are represented in a similar form - with a juxtaposition of the Signs and the Blessing Christ - in the full-page miniature of the Song of Salomon in the Saint-Vaast Bible of the second quarter of the 11th century.
The now missing shaft of the tau-cross may have extended this encyclopaedic coverage of the universe, with images of the Virtues and Vices or the Labours of the Months, which are carved on an ivory shaft of a more complete tau-cross in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Walrus ivory inlaid with coloured pastes
Brief description
Head of a tau-cross, walrus ivory inlaid with coloured paste, decorated signs of the Zodiac, northern France, ca. 1140-50
Physical description
Head of a tau-cross, walrus ivory inlaid with coloured pastes. Signs of the Zodiac; on the undersides, two ecclesiastics, one holding a pastoral staff and a book, the other a tau-cross, both wearing chasuble and alb. The 12 signs of the zodiac are shown within lozenges on the sides and top of the tau-cross, in an order corresponding the Gregorian Calendar. On the front are Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull) and Gemini (the Twins, now much damaged), with above Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion) and Virgo (the Virgin); on the back are Libra (a figure holding the Scales), Scorpio (the Scorpion) and Sagittarius (the Archer), with above Capricorn (the Goat), Aquarius (the Water-Bearer) and Pisces (the Fish). Small quadrupeds and birds are shown in the half and quarter lozenges of the interstices. The decorative bands of the lozenges were filled with glass beads on the front and back, but not on the top, of various colours, including turquoise, dark blue, black and grey. They were also in the eyes of the figures.

Dimensions
  • At left height: 4.9cm
  • At bottom length: 11.5cm
  • Width: 2.8cm
Object history
Purchased from the Webb Collection in 1865 for £ 77.



Historical significance: It has been suggested that the two figures on the underside of the tau-cross show its owner in the dual role of abbot and as bishop of a cathedral with an associated monastic community, although the heads of the figures are not identical. The signs of the Zodiac then, might represent the cosmographic context for the preaching of the Word of God. The signs of the Zodiac are represented in a similar form - with a juxtaposition of the Signs and the Blessing Christ - in the full-page miniature of the Song of Salomon in the Saint-Vaast Bible of the second quarter of the 11th century.

The now missing shaft of the tau-cross may have extended this encyclopaedic coverage of the universe, with images of the Virtues and Vices or the Labours of the Months, which are carved on an ivory shaft of a more complete tau-cross in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This is a head of a tau-cross made in ca. 1140-50 in northern France. The head is in walrus ivory and carved on three sides with the signs of the Zodiac and various birds and animals represented in lozenge-shaped compartments separated by bands of beaded ornament inlaid with coloured pastes. The eyes are similarly inlaid and larger stones from the intersections of the bands are now missing. On the underside are two ecclesiastics, the one holding a pastoral staff and a book, the other a tau cross.

It has been suggested that these two figures show its owner in the dual role of abbot and as bishop of a cathedral with an associated monastic community, although the heads of the figures are not identical. The signs of the Zodiac then, might represent the cosmographic context for the preaching of the Word of God. The signs of the Zodiac are represented in a similar form - with a juxtaposition of the Signs and the Blessing Christ - in the full-page miniature of the Song of Salomon in the Saint-Vaast Bible of the second quarter of the 11th century.

The now missing shaft of the tau-cross may have extended this encyclopaedic coverage of the universe, with images of the Virtues and Vices or the Labours of the Months, which are carved on an ivory shaft of a more complete tau-cross in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.
Associated object
Bibliographic references
  • Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1865. 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. 32
  • Mann, Vivian B. Mythological Subjects on Nothern French Tablemen. Gesta. 1981, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 161-171
  • Mann, Viviaan B. [Ph.D thesis], Romanesque Ivory Tablemen. New York University, 1977, pp. 41-42
  • Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 320-3, cat. no. 82
  • Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part I. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1927, pp. 83, 4
  • D'Onofrio, Mario (ed.), I Normanni. Popolo d'Europa 1030-1200, Venezia : Marsilio, 199499
  • Romanesque art, c. 1050-1200 : from collections in Great Britain and Eire, Manchester : City of Manchester Art Gallery, 195974
Collection
Accession number
215-1865

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Record createdFebruary 11, 2004
Record URL
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