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The Last Judgement

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Constantinople (made)

  • Date:

    11th century (carved)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

This panel is Byzantine (Constantinople), originating from the 11th century.
This type of Last Judgement, with the empty throne at its centre symbolising Christ as Judge is typically Byzantine. The scene resembles the same subject depicted in mosaic on the west wall of Torcello Cathedral, of about 1100. The mosaic was probably based on a model such as this ivory.
The iconography and the style of this relief represent the heavy influence of the Byzantine originals in the West and in particular in Venice.

Physical description

Above, in the centre, Christ is seated on a globe between the Virgin and St John the Baptist (the Deesis); they take their place as intercessors , at the Last Judgement, interceding to save the repentant sinners, while the twelve apostles besides them are assessors, helping the Judge to decide the fate of the souls of the dead. At the bottom , to the right of the centre, an angel blows a horn, the signal for the resurrection of the dead. The left of the central zone shows two groups of the Blessed and below various saints are led into Paradise, already occupied by the penitent thief (with his cross), the Virgin, and Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom. A river of fire descending from below Christ's feet, between two cherubim, leads to Hell on the right, where an angel ushers the Damned towards Satan on his throne of serpents. The figure in Satan's lap may be the rich man (as a pendant to Lazarus in Paradise). The figures at the bottom right have been identified as the sinners gnawing their lips and tongues mentioned in the apocryphal Apocalypse, or 'the violent who walk naked in the darkness', and the skulls represent those who sinned with their eyes and by touch. The empty throne with the open book and the instruments of the Passion is the Byzantine 'Etimasia', symbolising Our Lord as Judge.

Place of Origin

Constantinople (made)


11th century (carved)



Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory


Height: 15.1 cm, Width: 21.4 cm, Depth: 1 cm, Weight: 0.24 kg

Object history note

According to the label on the back the relief was found in Stafford House. This building was erected in the first half of the nineteenth century, occupied in part of the site of Godolphin house, and it is possible that the two names have been confused.
Was in the collection of Rev. George Wharton, Precentor of Radley College, Abingdon, Berkshire, until 1926; sold at Christie's London. 16 March 1926, lot 91, and purchased from G.R. Harding London, after the sale (£1200).

Historical context note

This representation is an abreviated version of the subject seen in the mosaics in Torcello cathedral near Venice of c. 1100. One unusual iconographic detail shared by both representations is the presence of the repentant thief in the Paradise itself rather than proceeding towards it with the other blessed. Most elements of the scene are already mentioned in the fourth-century description of the subject by Ephrain Syrus, but the typical Byzantine scheme, of which this is an example, does not seem to have developed until much later. The Etimasia, for instance, only forms part of the Last Judgement from the eleventh century onwards. The iconography and the style of this relief represent the heavy influence of the Byzantine originals in the West and in particular in Venice.

Descriptive line

Panel relief, ivory, The Last Judgement, Byzantine (Constantinople), 11th century

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

Williamson, Paul, ed. The Medieval Treasury. London, 1986, p.162.
Keck, Andrew S. A group of talo-byzantine ivories. Art Bulletin. XII, 1930. p. 161. fig. 24.
Jonsdòttir, Selma. An 11th century Byzantine Last Judgement in Iceland. Reykjavìk, 1959. pp. 21 ff.
Miloševic, Desanka. Das Jüngste Gericht. Recklinghausen : A. Bongers, 1963. p. 29.
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929. Part I. p. 42.
Goldschmidt, A. and Weitzmann, K. Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X. - XIII. Jahrhunderts, Zweiter Band: Reliefs, Berlin, 1934 (reprinted, Berlin, 1979), cat.no. 123.
Durand, Paul. Etude sir I'Etittmasit. Paris, 1867.
Cf. Byzance. L'Art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises. Paris, 1992. no. 172.
Williamson, Paul, ed. The Medieval Treasury: the Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986. pp. 162-163.
Cutler, A. The hand of the master : craftsmanship, ivory and society in Byzantium (9th - 11th centuries). Princeton, 1994. p. 272. n. 154, p. 279. n. 110.
Cf. Weitzmann, K. Byzantine miniature and icon painting in the 11th century. In: Hussey, J. M. et al., eds. Proceedings of the XIIIthe international Congress of Byzantine studies. Oxford, 1966. Main paper VII, p. 15. note. 5.
Cf. Brenk, B. Die Anfänge der byzantinischen Weltgerichtsdarstellung. Byzantinische Zeitschrift. LVII, 1964. pp. 106 ff.
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 128-133, cat.no. 30
Dell'Acqua, Francesca; Cutler, Anthony; Kessler, Herbert L.; Shalem, Avinoam; Wolf, Gerhard, eds. The Salerno Ivories: Objects, Histories, Contexts, Berlin, 2016, p.104.
Verdi, Richard. Saved!: 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, London, Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery, 2003



Subjects depicted

Tomb; Cross; Angels; Serpents; Skulls; Cherubim; Throne; River; Trumpet; Book; Clothing; Deesis; Hell


Sculpture; Religion; Christianity


Sculpture Collection

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