Scenes from the Life of Christ
ca. 850 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 8, case 9
Throughout the ages artists and craftsmen have made virtuoso carvings as a display of their skill and ingenuity. Although ivory, wood and stone are relatively easy to carve, other materials such as gemstones are much more demanding. Most of these carvings were made for wealthy patrons and collectors, who delighted in the rarity of the material and quality of the carving. The depth and intricacy of the carving, with its rich borders and detailed architectural setting, are exceptional. These virtuoso effects are unrivalled among surviving medieval ivory carvings.
Ivory panel divided into eight compartments each separated and surrounded by intricate foliage borders with large rosettes at the intersections. The scenes from top left are: Joseph's Dream, the Flight into Egypt; the Massacre of the Innocents; Rachel weeping for her Child; Christ brought into the Temple by His Parents; Christ among the Doctors; the Miracle at Cana and an extension of the last scene, the wine brought to the Master of the Feast (2 scenes).
ca. 850 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 22.2 cm, Width: 13.3 cm, Depth: 1.4 cm
Object history note
From the Webb Collection, purchased, £150.
The plaque is a reused Late Antique diptych leaf.
Historical significance: This plaque is unique in its rich borders, which relate more to illuminated manuscripts than to contemporary sculpture, in its detailed architectural settings, and in the depth and intricacy of the carving. The virtuosity of the artist's work is a tour-de-force unmatched in any other surviving medieval ivory.
Historical context note
The selection of the scenes depicted on this ivory, forms no logical programme in itself, and might have formed part of a large cycle, perhaps for an antependium. The detail is so fine that it could not be seen at any great distance, yet the depth of carving and lack of major damage to the plaque suggest that it was not used as a book cover as Longhurst suggests.
The ivory shows certain iconographic peculiarities, such as the two scenes for the Marriage at Cana, and a scene which has been interpreted as Rachel mourning for her dead child. In the Bible, Matthew follows the Adoration of the Magi with the Flight into Egypt, after Herod's threat to massacre all of the children up to two years of age and recalls the prophet Jeremiah's words describing Rachel weeping for her dead children., which to him represents a prophecy fulfilled in the Massacre of the Innocents.
The Massacre of the Innocents itself has been compared to mid-ninth-century Metz works in its iconography, but a Cologne origin seems most likely not only because of parallel for Rachel weeping on the mid eleventh-century wooden doors of sta Maria im Kapitol in Cologne, and the use of scalloped haloes which becomes widespread in Cologne by the twelfth century, but also because of stylistic similarities with ivories known to have been produced in the Cologne area. These similarities tend to be limited head types and a general resemblance in the drapery, as none of the other ivories can compare with the technical brilliance of this work.
Panel, ivory, depicting Scenes from the Life of Christ, Carolingian, ca. 950
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Williamson, P. The Medieval Treasury V&A Publications, London, 1986) pp 102-103
Ribbert, M. Untersuchungen zu den Elfenbeinarbeiten der älteren Metzer Gruppe Bonn, 1992. p.68
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1871, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O. p. 32.
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929. Part I. p. 72.
Cf. Heimann, Adelheid. An Ivory in the Victoria and Albert Museum, its Iconography and Provence. Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek. 1959, pp. 5-50.
Cf. Ribbert, Margret. Untersuchungen zu den Elfenbeinarbeiten der älteren Metzer Gruppe. Witterschlick/Bonn: Verlag M. Wehle, 1992. p. 68. note 168. pl. 40.
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 204-9, cat.no. 51
Canossa (Diözesanmuseum, Paderborn 21/07/2006-05/11/2006)
Mary (Virgin Mary); Jesus; Joseph; Rachel
Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Plaques & Plaquettes