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Plaque with Scenes from the Story of Joshua

10th century
Made in Constantinople
Ivory, traces of polychromy, gilding; bone (border strips)
a: 2 1/2 x 3 9/16 x 1/4 in. (6.3 x 9 x 0.6 cm) b: 1 1/16 x 3 9/16 x 1/16 in. (2.7 x 9.1 x 0.2 cm) c: 3 5/8 x 1 x 1/16 in. (9.2 x 2.6 x 0.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
  • Description

    The prosperity and cultural renaissance of the Byzantine Empire during the tenth and eleventh centuries are demonstrated by elaborate ivory boxes that may have served as containers for gifts or as luxury objects for display. These plaques, carved with the Old Testament story of the reconquest of the Holy Land by Joshua and the Israelites, were once fastened to the wooden core of a box of the type called a rosette casket, of which about fifty examples survive. The plaques illustrate events in the biblical story of Joshua's conquest of the Promised Land; each is inscribed with a direct quotation from or a paraphrase of the Book of Joshua. On the plaques, Joshua leads the Israelites in ambushing the army led by the king of Ai (Joshua 8:10-23), he condemns the king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:26), and he receives the ambassadors from Gibeon (Joshua 9). Joshua's triumph may have been seen at this time as a prototype for Byzantine attempts to reconquer the Holy Land from the Arabs. Such images commemorated Byzantine victories over the infidels and signified the desire to restore the Holy Land to Christian rule. Each plaque is framed by a border of medallions containing bust portraits in profile and rosettes. The figures are exquisitely carved in naturalistic poses. It has been argued that the traces of paint on the ivories are original.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed in Greek: recorded in MMA as illegible; given by Goldschmidt, see ref., as follows]: (above head) IHCOVC (in background of relief, right side) V(?) _ABAONHTE E_H A_IKNVMENOI TA HMATHA AVT(wv) _HPO_OTA (trans.: The Gabaonites displaying their torn clothes, by VO 1945).

  • Provenance

    George Brauer, Paris (sold 1912); J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (1912 - 1913); Estate of J. Pierpont Morgan(until 1917)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History