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The Annunciation at the Spring

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Lower Rhine (probably, made)
    North Rhine-Westphalia (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 800 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Museum number:

    149B-1866

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 9

This is one of three ivory panels which appear to copy early Christian models, perhaps of the 5th century. The narrative takes place as an integrated sequence, rather than separating events out. Thus the wise men following the star, the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi are shown in one.

The panel is from a casket (known as the Werden Casket) probably made about 800 in the Lower Rhine area, possibly Werden. The date and origin of these plaquettes have been the subject of considerable scholarly debate, with the majority of authorities devided between an Early Christian and Caorlingan origin.
This and the two other ivory panels from the Abbey of Werden in the V&A collection depict a mixture of scenes from Biblical and Apocryphal stories. They have been linked stylistically to a book-cover in the treasury of Milan Cathedral and other surviving panels and pyxides. The scenes of the Annunciation, the Magi seeing the Star, the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi closely resemble the Milan book covers.
Other panels which are thought to belong to the same group can be found in the Berlin, Toulouse and Nevers museums and also possibly a panel in the British Museum representing Christ disputing with the Doctors. Three pyxides, one still at Werden, one in the museum at Rouen and the third in Florence have also been identified as belonging to the same group.

Physical description

One of three panels from an ivory casket (known as the Werden Casket), carved ivory with a narrow border of leaf ornament. This is the shortest panel and depicts scenes including the Preaching of St John the Baptist; the axe laid to the root of he tree; and the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, the river being symbolised by a reclining figure leaning on an urn.

Place of Origin

Lower Rhine (probably, made)
North Rhine-Westphalia (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 800 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory

Dimensions

Height: 4.4 cm, Width: 15.4 cm at top, Length: 25.5 cm at bottom, Weight: 0.06 kg, Depth: 0.7 cm

Object history note

Formerly in the Abbey of Werden, Westphalia, Germany. Purchased by the museumm in 1866.

Historical context note

This and the two other ivory panels from the Abbey of Werden in the V&A collection depict a mixture of scenes from Biblical and Apocryphal stories. They have been linked stylistically to a book-cover in the treasury of Milan Cathedral and other surviving panels and pyxides. The panels which are thought to belong to the same group can be found in the Berlin, Toulouse and Nevers museums and also possibly includes a panel in the British Museum representing Christ disputing with the Doctors. Three pyxides, one still at Werden, one in the museum at Rouen and the third in Florence have also been identified as belonging to the same group.

The Preaching of John the Baptist :This event is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 3:1 in which John arrives in Judea to preach and baptise to prepare the way for the coming of Christ

The Axe Laid to the Root of the Tree: This scene is taken from the preaching of John as told in Matthew 3:11 "the axe is laid to the root of the tree: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." a motif of John's preaching is that he draws similies from the flora and fauna of the Holy Land.

The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan :As told by Matthew, Christ approaches John to be baptised and John is worried that it should be Christ baptising him. The river Jordan is personified on this panel by a reclining male figure with an urn. Conway has suggested that the river-god is of Nile type and that the figure marks the ivory as Alexandrian. A very similar figure appears on a mosaic in the Arian Baptistery at Ravenna : personifications of rivers are frequent in Graeco-Roman art.

The eastern or western origin of this panel has been much debated. The architecture depicted on panel 149-1866 may be an indication of oriental origin: the facade flanked by two towers is a style of architecture associated with the Christian East. The shed-like roof over the nativity scene on the present panel is a more western feature. Dalton concludes that the precise localisation of the ivories can only be conjectural.

Descriptive line

Panel, carved ivory, from a casket (known as the Werden Casket), depicting scenes including the Annunciation, probably Lower Rhine (probably Werden), ca. 800

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

Beckwith , J. The Werden casket Reconsidered (Art Bullesin XL, 1958), pp. 98-102
Lafontaine-Dosogne, J. Iconographie de la Vierge dans l'empire Byzantin et en Occident (Bruxelles : Académie royale de Belgique, 1992), Volume 1, p. 36
Ribbert, M. Untersuchungen zu den Elfenbeinarbeiten der älteren Metzer Gruppe (Witterschlick/Bonn : Verlag M. Wehle,1992), p. 43; note 77; p. 249
Dalton, O. M. (Ormonde Maddock) Byzantine art and archaeology
(Oxford, Clarendon press, 1911), p. 202
Baldwin-Smith Early Christian iconography and A school of ivory carvers in Provence (Princeton University Press), p. 221
Strzygowski, Josef Kleinasien, ein Neuland der Kunstgeschichte, Kirchenaufnahmen von J.W. Crowfoot und J.I. Smirnov unter Benutzung einiger Ergebnisse der Expedition nach der asiatischen Türkei des Kais. Legationsrates Dr. Max Freiherrn von Oppenheim, der Isaurischen Expedition der Gesellschaft zur Förderung Deutscher Wissenschaft, Kunst und Literatur in Böhmen, Beiträgen von Bruno Keil, Otto Puchstein, Adolf Wilhelm u.a.; bearb. von Josef Strzygowski, mit 162 Abbildungen. (Leipzig, J.C. Hinrichs, 1903), p. 198
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1866. 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. 17
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Pub. under the authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part I, pp. 31-32
Ribbert, Margret. Untersuchungen zu den Elfenbeinarbeiten der älteren Metzer Gruppe. Witterschlick/Bonn: Verlag M. Wehle, 1992, pp. 43, 249
Volbach, Wolfgang Fritz. Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätantike und des frühen Mittelalters. Mainz am Rhein: Von Zabern, 1976, n. 118
Volbach, Wolfgang Fritz. Avori di scuola ravennate nel V e VI secolo. Ravenna: London, 1977, pp. 16, 18, 23, 29, 30, 33
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 156-158 , cat. no. 38

Production Note

probably Werden

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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