Medieval & Renaissance Europe 300-1000
The Andrews Diptych
Carved elephant ivory
Width 10 cm (each) x height 30 cm (each)
Museum no. A.47&A-1926
A diptych is formed of two panels fastened together that can be opened and closed. This ivory diptych shows six miracles associated with Jesus Christ, who is shown beardless. From top right the miracles are the Raising of Lazarus, the Marriage at Cana, the Healing of the Leper, the Miracles of the Loaves and Fishes, the Healing of the Blind Man, and the Healing of the Man sick of the Palsy.
The dating and place of production of this ivory are controversial. Some scholar have viewed it as a work of the 400s but several others favour a date in the 800s, a period when there was a renewed interest in late Roman art in western Europe under the Carolingian dynasty (751-987). This revived interest in the culture of the late Roman empire is frequently described as the Carolingian renaissance. Carolingian artists' use of Roman models can make it very difficult to be sure when an ivory object like this was carved.
Glass and gold mosaic set in plaster
Width 38 cm x height 53.5 cm
Museum no. 4312-1856
This mosaic panel depicts the head of Jesus Christ, showing him as a beardless young man. The face has been heavily restored, mostly in the 19th century. It is a fragment removed from a larger decorative scheme of early Byzantine mosaic from the eastern end (or apse) of the church of San Michele in Africisco, in Ravenna, Italy. The Byzantine empire was centred around the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) which was established as the capital of the Roman Empire in 330AD by the Emperor Constantine.
Ivory depicting the Last Judgement
Width 8 cm x height 14.5 cm
Museum no. 253-1867
This panel is carved on both sides. This side shows scenes related to the Last Judgement, the final and absolute judgement of God on each person. A beardless Christ, with a halo behind his head, is seated and holds two scrolls. Either side of him three angels are blowing trumpets. Below his feet a haloed angel stands on a crescent, and the dead can be seen rising from their tombs to be judged. Those who are saved are received into heaven by a angel, but the damned huddle in hell.
The inscription on the scroll in Christ's right hand relates to Matthew's Gospel (Chapter 25: Verse 34). The full sentence from which the inscription comes reads: 'Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'
The place of origin of this small ivory plaque and the date of carving has been debated. Within a hundred years of its creation, it was in mainland Europe where the reverse was carved.
Late 700s or early 800s
Cloisonné enamel mounted in gold, the frame silver-gilt
Width 5.5cm x height 8.5cm
Museum no. 265-1886
The front of the cross shows Jesus Christ crucified between his mother (the Virgin Mary) and St John the Evangelist (who was one of his followers). There is an abbreviated inscription in Greek for 'Behold thy son' and 'Behold thy mother'. The cross has a cavity that originally would have contained holy relics. In this case case the relic was probably a wooden fragment considered by the owner to be a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
On the back is a standing figure of the Virgin with both her hands raised in a gesture of prayer. The Virgin is surrounded by images of Saints John, Peter, Andrew and Paul, followers of Christ in the first century AD.
Reliquary crosses were popular with the wealthy in the Byzantine Empire, the territory centred around the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Enamelled examples like this are very rare and the precise date and place of manufacture are still open to debate.
Front cover of The Lorsch Gospels
Carved elephant ivory
Width 26.7cm x height 38.1cm
Museum no. 138-1866
These five ivory panels formed part of the front cover of a copy of the Gospels from Lorsch Abbey (Germany) the back cover of which is now in the Vatican Museum (Rome). The Gospels are accounts of the life of Jesus Christ written in the first century AD by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The subjects and figures represented in the panels are referred to in the various Gospel accounts. The Virgin Mary and Christ Child are shown in the central panel. To the left is John the Baptist, and to the right Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Above two angels hold a medallion with a beardless Christ. Below are scenes related to Christ's birth, known as the Nativity and the Annunciation to the shepherds.
The panels were carved at Aachen (modern Germany), then the capital of Charlemagne's extensive empire. Under Charlemagne (b.742-d.814) and his Carolingian successors interest in the art and learning of the Roman Empire was reinvigorated. Carolingian art referred back to the distant Roman past but also followed more recent models.
Holy Water Bucket or Situla
Carved elephant ivory
Height 16 cm
Museum no. A.18-1933
A situla is a bucket designed to hold holy water. Ivory situlae are very rare and were apparently only made for special ceremonial occasions. This example is carved with twelve scenes from the Passion of Christ arranged in two rows. It was probably made around 980 for the visit of the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto II to Milan.
There are three bands of inscriptions. The lower band runs: 'May the Father, who added thrice five to the years of Hezekiah, grant many lustres to the august Otto. Reverently, Caesar, the anointing vessel wishes to be remembered for its art.'