Plaque with the Descent from the Cross, ca. 1320–40
French; probably Paris
Elephant ivory glued to a whalebone plaque with traces of paint and gilding; Overall 9 1/8 x 7 3/16 x 13/16 in. (23.2 x 18.3 x 2.1 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.199)
This ivory relief of the Deposition is one of five extant appliqué plaques with scenes of the Passion of Christ, now separated among museums in Antwerp, London, Oslo, and Paris. These plaques were originally intended to form a continuous frieze across the back of an altar—a retable—though it is unlikely that all five pieces come from the same retable. Like stone and wooden examples from the same period, the plaques were probably mounted on an architectural support.
The sensitive carving of the Deposition plaque—badly damaged and mounted on the large flat sheet of whalebone at the end of the nineteenth century—with elegant and emphatic gestures, domed heads, and flowing drapery, points to Parisian ivory carving of the first quarter of the thirteenth century.