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Virgin and Child
the Visitation and the Annuciation (above); the Adoration of the Magi (below)
Mary, Jesus, and Joseph in the Manger (above) and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (below)
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Title:Folding Shrine with the Virgin and Child
Culture:French or Italian
Medium:Elephant ivory with metal mounts
Dimensions:Overall (open): 4 5/16 x 4 3/8 x 9/16 in. (10.9 x 11.1 x 1.4 cm) Overall (closed): 4 5/16 x 1 5/8 x 11/16 in. (10.9 x 4.2 x 1.7 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
The Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus occupy the central panel of this tiny four-winged devotional shrine, intended for personal use. Mary is crowned, dressed in a voluminous gown with a mantel, and holds a flowering branch in her left hand. The infant Jesus sits in the crook of his mother’s right arm. He holds an orb or apple in his left hand and touches Mary’s veil with his right. Typical for a type of ivory folding shrine called in academic literature a "tabernacle polyptych," the central figures are carved in high relief from the ivory ground and occupy a space beneath a Gothic canopy. The interiors of the four articulated wings represent scenes from the pregnancy of Mary and the early life of Jesus in two registers. An arch surrounds each scene carved into the wings, and crocketed gables surmount each wing, so that when shut and locked with a small hook they form the semblance of a miniature shrine. The carving is rough in comparison to other surviving works of this type. The architectural details of the crockets are rendered as slits. The arches surmounting each register of carving are normally enlivened with elaborate adornment, but are here rendered as simple lancet arches. The polyptych has suffered significant damage, most notably to the proper left of the Virgin, where a hunk of the virgin’s foot is missing. Other areas of loss include the gables above the inner wings and the pinnacles that once framed the central canopy, a missing fragment of the outer wing to the right, and the two columns that once framed the central Virgin. The clunky, loosely-set hinges are modern. Holes for a what would have undoubtedly been a much finer set of hinges may be seen at the bottom of the inner left wing, the upper right of the inner right wing, and on the lower right of the central panel.
Surviving in relatively large numbers, folding shrines of the "tabernacle polyptych" type were among the more complex products that Parisian ivory carvers or ymagiers regularly produced for wealthy members of the lay pious. Miniaturized replicas of the shrine-like structures that surrounded large-scale statues of Mary and Jesus like that in the Saint Chappelle in the Taft Museum in Cincinnati and The Louvre, they share the format of a folding, house-like structure with goldsmiths, who produced similarly moveable shrines like the one in The Met’s collection (acc. no. 62.96). These images served as aids in private devotion to the Virgin Mary, who may have opened the wings during use or unfolded specific panels to focus devotions on specific elements in the life of Mary and Jesus.
Paul Williamson and Glyn Davies, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, Part 1 (Victoria and Albert Museum Publishing, 2014), 137-158.
John Lowden and John Cherry, Medieval Ivories and works of Art: The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto: Skylet Publishing/The Art Gallery of Ontario, 2008), 59-61.
Sarah M. Guérin, "Meaningful Spectacles: Gothic Ivories Staging the Divine," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 95 (March 2013), pp. 53-77.
Peter Barnet, Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 124-126.
Catalogue Entry by Scott Miller, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial and Research Collections Specialist, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, 2020–2022
Baron Albert Oppenheim, Cologne(sold 1906); J. Pierpont Morgan (American), London and New York (1906–1917)
Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume I, Text. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924. no. 149, pp. 126, 127, 133.
Koechlin, Raymond. Les Ivoires Gothiques Français: Volume II, Catalogue. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1924. no. 149, p. 66.
Egbert, D. D. "North Italian Gothic Ivories in the Museo Cristiano of the Vatican Library." Art Studies 7 (1929). p. 189, fig. 37.
Morey, C.R. "Italian Gothic Ivories." In Medieval Studies in Memory of A. Kingsley Porter, edited by Wilhelm R. W. Koehler. Vol. I. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1939. p. 193, fig. 16, pl. XIX.
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