Croziers, sometimes made of ivory, were important symbols of the authority of the Western Church. This ivory formed part of the shaft of a crozier that was surmounted either by a crook or a T-shaped cross known as a tau. The shaft segment is divided into four horizontal bands. At the top is Jesus enthroned and surrounded by the Elders of the Apocalypse. The enthroned Virgin and Child appear on the opposite side. Angels dressed as clergy populate the two central registers. The lowest register depicts the heavenly investiture of the bishop, for whom this crozier perhaps was made. The richly animated drapery and technical virtuosity of the carving are almost without parallel in twelfth-century ivory sculpture. Elements of its style and iconography—such as the highly unusual inhabited mandorla surrounding Jesus—can be found in northern Spanish art.
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Title:Segment of a Crozier Shaft
Date:late 12th century
Dimensions:Overall: 11 5/16 x 1 3/8 in. (28.7 x 3.5 cm)
Credit Line:The Cloisters Collection, 1981
With three levels of the celestial hierarchies above and the terrestrial sphere below, this carved ivory segment from a crozier shaft masterfully conveys the visual drama of the Apocalypse as well as the solemnity of the medieval liturgy. Born aloft by seraphim within an almond-shaped aura of light (known as a mandorla), Jesus blesses the viewer and holds an open book while seated on a throne. Ten of the twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse inhabit the mandorla with flasks and stringed instruments in hand, and the blessing hand of God descends from the mandorla’s apex. This diminutive yet complex scene likely refers to the apocalyptic vision of John the Evangelist recorded in the Book of Revelation (4:1–8). Jesus’ cross-shaped nimbus is filled with stars, a motif that repeats with intermediary bands of pearls in the mandorla framing the enthroned Virgin and Child. In her left hand, the Virgin holds a short floral scepter (partially broken) which Charles T. Little describes as a priestly symbol referring back to the flowering staff of Aaron (Book of Numbers 17:8, see Little 2004). The flower’s downturned petals resemble those of a lily, a common symbol of the Virgin’s purity. The Christ Child holds a book in his left hand and makes a distinctive circular gesture with his right hand. The Dove of the Holy Spirit (now broken) perches on their cushioned throne, reminding the viewer of the Incarnation (Little 1981).
Seven angels in the two middle registers unite the different levels of the composition with their inquisitive expressions, gestures, and dynamic flight paths. Dressed in the manner of the medieval clergy, each angel wears a plain garment (alb) with a stole pressed against the front of the body under a high collar and thick fabric knotted at the waist. The voluminous garments gather in generous, stylized folds as the angels turn and point to the registers above and below. Six angels also carry staffs topped with arcaded vessels that may refer to the lanterns mentioned in Revelation 4:5: "and there were seven lamps burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God" (Little 2004). The standing angels carry unusual disks, four carved with stars or crosses, which might refer to Eucharistic wafers but have not been adequately explained in the scholarly literature. With exuberant disregard for the organizational structure of the shaft, one of the angels swoops down past the ornamental band that separates the angelic host from the lowest register. The speech scroll issuing from its mouth might have originally contained a painted inscription.
Flying into the apse of a church, the descending angel invests the bishop below with a miter. According to Zarnecki et al., the style of this liturgical hat was common in the decades after 1150. The bishop is seated on an episcopal throne and dressed in vestments appropriate to his office, and a crozier shaft is visible in his left hand (now broken above its knob). The miraculous scene is reminiscent of an episode from the life of St. Servatius, bishop of Tongern and patron saint of Maastricht (d. 384 A.D.), who purportedly received his miter and crozier from an angel. In the absence of a halo, however, this may instead be an idealized portrait of the bishop for whom this ivory was made. The bishop blesses a kneeling layman, possibly the donor or a pilgrim, who grips the crozier shaft with his left hand. Behind the kneeling figure, a haloed saint wearing liturgical vestments gestures toward the bishop from behind a twisted column. Behind his back is an unusual knotted staff, perhaps a reference to the staff of Aaron (see acc. nos. 17.190.224 and 17.190.171). On the other side of this crozier segment, a second nimbed saint in liturgical vestments holds a book and a crozier or staff (now broken).
The localization of this singular object changed since it was first published in 1888. Vöge tentatively attributed it to a northern Italian workshop active during the second half of twelfth century, whereas Volbach preferred an English attribution during the first half of twelfth century. Mistakenly identifying the object as "walrus ivory," Goldschmidt attributed the shaft segment to an English or French workshop active ca. 1200, comparing it to four other works: a fully-carved shaft segment at the British Museum in London (inv. no. 1856,0623.30), a fragment of a tau (or t-shaped terminal) at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (inv. no. 215–1865), a shaft segment at the Musée du Louvre in Paris (inv. no. OA 3988), and a tau-cross at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence (inv. no. 46 Carrand). Little related the British Museum and Bargello examples through the rendering of fleshy faces and dynamic drapery (Little 1981). These comparative examples also share a similar hierarchical conception of vertical space and apportioning of figures horizontally within architectural or diamond-shaped borders. But Gaborit-Chopin cautioned against Goldschmidt’s comparison of the group’s foliate elements, arguing that their pervasiveness in twelfth-century western European art are evidence of a global aesthetic driven by trade, pilgrimage, and diplomacy (Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. no. 74, p. 234). That said, the Virgin and Child’s mandorla on The Met’s shaft segment bears a strong resemblance to the ornamental band of rosettes alternating with rows of three dots on the British Museum’s shaft (Zarnecki et al. 1984). Their common origin is possible.
Between the tenth and twelfth centuries, copies of Beatus of Liébana’s eighth-century Commentary on the Apocalypse were lavishly illuminated by Iberian artists, setting the standard for the frenetic, luminous representations of the Apocalypse that would characterize Christian art in western Europe for centuries (compare acc. no. 1991.232.1). Little argued that the Apocalyptic iconography of The Met’s shaft segment can be related to liturgical spaces associated with the medieval pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain (Little 2004). According to the twelfth-century pilgrim’s guide contained in a compendium of texts known as the Codex Calixtinus, for example, a silver altar frontal in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela featured Christ enthroned among the twenty-four Elders, each holding instruments and vials of perfume. A similar Christ in Majesty with an Elders mandorla is also extant in the twelfth-century apse painting in the church of San Justo in Segovia, and celestial, angelic imagery abounds in the carved decoration of pilgrimage churches across the region.
Walking sticks, as Little explains, were important symbols of the apostolic mission as well as pilgrimage to Santiago. The many staffs depicted as attributes on The Met’s shaft segment further underscore their symbolic value to the patron. Some of the shaft segments catalogued by Goldschmidt are said to be from flabella, the lavishly-decorated fans used during the medieval liturgy to keep insects at bay. But the investiture scene on the lower register of The Met’s shaft segment strongly suggests that it was part of an episcopal crozier. Little believed that a tau topped the crozier, citing comparative images from twelfth-century Spain (including acc. no. 17.190.47; Little 2004). A volute resembling a shepherd’s crook would have been an appropriate alternative for the time period. The knob at the top of the segment would have attached to an additional cylinder made of ivory (or perhaps wood or bone). The socket at the base of the segment is worn and threaded from repeated use.
This object preserves rare and important evidence of the medieval ivory carver’s process in the form of tool marks and incised reference lines. Three fingers on the Virgin’s left hand appear together as an undercut block. The bottom of the Virgin and Child’s mandorla is unfinished where it overlaps the node below. Unlike the mandorla surrounding Jesus, which is carved in low relief with a foliate finial supporting the elaborate footrest, the pointed base of the Virgin and Child’s mandorla is only lightly incised on the node with two circular finials. Incised "sketches" like these enabled craftspeople to block out the final composition and minimize mistakes. To the right of the unfinished mandorla, two circles pricked into the ivory with a fine tool suggest that the node was either marked out for an attachment or prepared for ornamental carving. The upper angelic register also lacks the detail of the register below. The disks and "lanterns" are uncarved, one column is incised diagonally for later treatment as a Solomonic column, and circles on the middles of two columns are ready to be carved into star-shaped bosses. Zarnecki et al. also remark on the "bulbous eyes with no lids" that, in their view, characterize the unfinished figures within Goldschmidt’s group. While the lack of detail in the faces of some figures could indicate that the original carving lost definition through decades of handling, it is more likely that they were never completed. It remains unclear why this crozier shaft was left unfinished and why, despite these omissions, it was evidently still used, appreciated, and preserved.
First documented in the collection of Karl Ferdinand von Nagler (1770–1846), this shaft segment entered the Berlin Kunstkammer (later the Berlin Kaiser Friedrich Museum) in 1835 but was sold during the 1930’s in order to raise funds for the acquisition of part of the Guelph Treasure. It subsequently passed through private collections, including that of the Irish dealer and collector John Hunt and his wife Gertrude Hunt.
Little, Charles T. "Along the Pilgrimage Road: Ivories and the Role of Compostela." In Patrimonio artístico de Galicia y otros estudios: Homenaje al Prof. Dr. Serafín Moralejo Álvarez, edited by Ángela Franco Mata. Vol. 3. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2004. pp. 159–166.
Catalogue Entry by Nicole D. Pulichene, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial and Research Collections Specialist, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, 2020–2022, with contributions from Amelia Roché Hyde, Research Assistant, and Julia Perratore, Assistant Curator.
Karl Ferdinand Friedrich von Nagler, Berlin ; Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin (1835–1936) ; Joseph Homberg, Paris (sold 1949) ; [ Sotheby's, London (July 19, 1949, no. 159)] ; [ Sydney Burney, London (1949)] ; [ Mr. and Mrs. John Hunt, Drumleck Baily, Ireland (until 1980)] ; [ Howard Ricketts, London (sold 1981)]
Hayward Gallery. "English Romanesque Art 1066—1200," April 5–July 8, 1984.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Mirror of the Medieval World," March 9–June 1, 1999.
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Bode, Wilhelm von, and Hugo von Tschudi, ed. Beschreibung der Bildwerke der christlichen Epochen. Berlin: Königliche Museen zu Berlin, 1888. no. 478, pp. 127–28, pl. LVII.
Vöge, Wilhelm. Beschreibung der Bildwerke der christlichen Epochen: Part 1, Die Elfenbeinbildwerke. Vol. 1. Berlin: Königliche Museen zu Berlin, 1900. no. 75, pp. 42–43.
Vöge, Wilhelm. Beschreibung der Bildwerke der christlichen Epochen: Part 1, Die Elfenbeinbildwerke. Vol. 2. Berlin: Königliche Museen zu Berlin, 1902. no. 75, pl. 24.
Volbach, Wolfgang Fritz. Die Bildwerke des Deutschen Museums: Volume 1, Die Elfenbeinbildwerke. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1923. no. J 614, p. 30, pl. 34.
Goldschmidt, Adolph. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der romanischen Zeit, XI.-XIII. Jahrhundert. Vol. 4. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1926. no. 64, pp. 1, 23, pl. XVI.
Catalogue of important Chinese ceramics, bronzes, jades and silver, European Mediaeval ivories and enamels, including the property of Joseph Homberg [...] Lady Hilton [...] E.W.L. Atterbury [...] and from other sources. London: Sotheby & Co., July 19, 1949. no. 159.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notable Acquisitions, 1980-1981 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1981). pp. 21–22.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "One Hundred Eleventh Annual Report of the Trustees for the Fiscal Year July 1, 1980, through June 30, 1981." Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 111 (1981). p. 42.
Kleinbauer, Walter Eugene. "Recent Major Acquisitions of Medieval Art by American Museums." Gesta 21, no. 1 (1982). p. 75, fig. 4.
Howard, Kathleen, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. no. 4, p. 361.
Zarnecki, George, Janet Holt, and Tristram Holland, ed. English Romanesque Art, 1066-1200. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984. no. 215, pp. 229–30.
Frazer, Margaret English. "Medieval Church Treasuries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 43, no. 3 (Winter 1985-1986). pp. 34, 37, fig. 42, 43.
Husband, Timothy B., and Charles T. Little. Europe in the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. no. 47, pp. 54–55.
Little, Charles T., ed. The Art of Medieval Spain, A.D. 500–1200. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 142, pp. 288–89.
Howard, Kathleen, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 2nd ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. no. 4, p. 395.
Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 93, pp. 80–81.
Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires Médiévaux, Ve-XVe siècle. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2003. pp. 232–35.
Little, Charles T. "Along the Pilgrimage Road: Ivories and the Role of Compostela." In Patrimonio artístico de Galicia y otros estudios: Homenaje al Prof. Dr. Serafín Moralejo Álvarez, edited by Ángela Franco Mata. Vol. 3. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2004. pp. 159–66, fig. 1–5.
Barnet, Peter, and Nancy Y. Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. no. 31, pp. 64, 194.
Pardo, Francisco Fernández. Dispersión y Destrucción del Patrimonio Artístico Español. Vol. 3. 1st ed. Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 2007. pp. 385–86, fig. 150.
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Barnet, Peter. "Medieval Europe." In Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1977–2008, edited by James R. Houghton. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. p. 23.
Castiñeiras González, Manuel. "El Maestro Mateo o la unidad de las artes." In Maestros del románico en el Camino de Santiago, edited by Pedro Luis Huerta Huerta. Aguilar de Campoo: Fundacion Santa Maria la Real, 2010. pp. 222–23, fig. 33, (acc. no. misidentified as 1981.81).
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings: Early Christian to Romanesque. London: V & A Publications, 2010. p. 407.
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El altar románico y su mobiliario litúrgico: frontales, vigas y baldaquinos." In Mobiliario y ajuar litúrgico en las iglesias románicas, edited by Pedro Luis Huerta Huerta. Aguilar de Campoo: Fundacion Santa Maria la Real, 2011. pp. 37–38, fig. 15.
Prado-Vilar, Francisco. "Flabellum: Ulises, la Catedral de Santiago y la Historia del Arte medieval español como proyecto intelectual." Anales de historia del arte Extra no. 2 (2011). pp. 312–13.
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Castiñeiras González, Manuel. "Un nuevo testimonio de la iconografía jacobea: Los relieves pintados de Santiagode Turégano (Segovia) y su relación con el altar mayor de la Catedral de Santiago." Ad limina: revista de investigación del Camino de Santiago y las peregrinaciones 3 (2012). pp. 103–4, fig. 26–27, (acc. no. misidentified as 1981.81).
Hyde, Amelia. "The Metropolitan Museum's Segment of a Crozier Shaft and Local Ivory Traditions in Spain." Master's thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2017.
Ciseri, Ilaria, ed. Gli avori del Museo nazionale del Bargello. Milan: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2018. pp. 146–9, fig. 18.
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