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The Last Judgement

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (south, possibly, made)
    Italy (north, possibly, made)
    Reims (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 800 (carved)
    ca. 860 (re-carved)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory relief

  • Museum number:

    253-1867

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 11

Shortages of ivory in Western Europe meant that existing panels were often re-carved. This plaque was worked three times. It is possible that the plaque first formed the centre of the front cover of an early Apocalypse manuscript, and that mus. no. 254-1867 - with the same original dimensions - belonged to the back. By the middle of the 9th century the plaques have reached the vicinity of Reims and were slightly cut down and transformed into the inside faces of a pair of doors, being carved on the other sides with the 'Transformation and Ascension of Christ'. The objects to which these doors were attached must remain a mystery. At a later date the Carolingian doors were reused once again, being converted back into book-covers.

Physical description

Small ivory panel, depicting the Last Judgement on one side and the Transfiguration on the other.
The Last Judgement (obverse): Christ is shown in a mandorla, holding a scroll in each hand. Only the scroll in his right hand still contains an inscription. On either side of Christ are three angels blowing trumpets and below, standing upon a crescent, is the archangel Michael. Unusually Christ's left foot is shown resting on the archangel's head. The dead ride from their sarcophagi, their souls shown in the form of doves circling above them. Below, at the left, the blessed, clothed souls are welcomed by an angel into Heaven, while on the right a group of the Damned - naked and cowering - are about to be devoured by the mouth of Hell. The border is made up of a series of pierced circles with dots between. The surface of the plaque is now very rubbed. The ornament around the entrance to Heaven must once have been inlaid with glass beads, only one of which survives: this is turquoise in colour and is set on the gable to the right of the circular tower above the gate. The top border was shaved down and the sides slightly reduced when the plaque was re-carved on the back.
The Transfiguration (reverse): is shown as in Matthew, XVII, 1-7: 'Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John with him, and led them up to a mountain where they were alone and where he was transfigured in their presence, his face shining like the sun, and his garments becoming white as snow...' Moses is shown on the right with scroll. The presence of God the Father is shown by the Dextera Dei emerging from the clouds above Christ's head. The border consists of an acanthus-type ornamentation. Above Christ in a mandorla ascends into Heaven with tow angels on either side. The Virgin and the apostles look up and gesture towards Christ. Only four of the disciples are carved in high relief, the other seven being incised in a bravura display of 'schiacciato' relief.

Place of Origin

Germany (south, possibly, made)
Italy (north, possibly, made)
Reims (made)

Date

ca. 800 (carved)
ca. 860 (re-carved)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory relief

Marks and inscriptions

'VENITE BEN[edicti p] ATR[is] / MEI P(er)CIPIT[E Regnum} VO(bis)'

Dimensions

Height: 13.1 cm, Width: 8.1 cm at top, Width: 7.9 cm at bottom, Depth: 0.6 cm

Object history note

The blank scroll in his left hand must have held the words of Christ to the Damned: DISCEDETE A ME MALEDICTI IN IGNEM AETERNUM (Matthew, XXV, 41). This inscription was subsequently excised, probably in connection with the plaque's later reuse. The ornament around the entrance to Heaven must once have been inlaid with glass beads, only one of which survives. The top border was shaved down and the sides slightly reduced when the plaque was re-carved on the back.
It is possible that the plaque first formed the centre of the front cover of an early Apocalypse manuscript, and that mus. no. 254-1867 - with the same original dimensions - belonged to the back. By the middle of the 9th century the plaques have reached the vicinity of Reims and were slightly cut down and transformed into the inside faces of a pair of doors, being carved on the other sides with the 'Transformation and Ascension of Christ'. The objects to which these doors were attached must remain a mystery. At a later date the Carolingian doors were reused once again, being converted back into book-covers.
It seems most likely that both plaques were produced in a continental workshop under the influence of both insular and Italian models, and with access to earlier ivory carvings.

Historical context note

The plaques are closely related in style to the ivory panels on the cover of the Noailles Gospels in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Descriptive line

Panel, ivory, The Last Judgement, probably South German or North Italian, probably ca. 800, and on reverse The Transfiguration of Christ, probably Reims, ca. 850-870

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

Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 152, 3 and pp. 190, 3 , cat.nos. 36 and 46
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929. Part I. p. 64.
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. 9.

Production Note

The Last Judgement: probably Southern Germany or Northern Italy, probably ca.800, The Transfiguration, probably Reims, ca. 850-870.

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carved

Subjects depicted

Angels; Scroll; Sarcophagi; Mandorla; Hell; Trumpets; Doves

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Plaques & Plaquettes

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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