Plaque with Saint Aemilian, ca. 1060–80
Master Engelram and his son Redolfo
Elephant ivory inlaid with glass; 5 5/8 x 3 in. (14.3 x 7.6 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1987 (1987.89)
This plaque forms part of a larger set of ivories that once adorned a wooden reliquary box containing the relics of the Spanish saint Aemilian. It displays two scenes from the life of the saint, one placed on top of the other. In the lower register, a young Aemilian sits tending his flock of sheep. The text on the band above his head explains to the reader that this future shepherd of men was once a shepherd of sheep. In the upper register, the saint climbs a hill, identified in the text above the scene as Mount Distercio, a site visited by Saint Aemilian while seeking solitude during his life. The hand of God reaches into the scene, bestowing blessings on the saint. The scenes are taken directly from the written life of the saint, a rare instance of a literary account being translated in visual narrative without reliance on pictorial models.
This ivory displays a deft handling of the surface, with incised and sculpted lines, drilled holes, and dark inlays used to emphasize, among other things, the eyes of the saint and the sheep. The rich treatment of the carved, engraved, and drilled surface details reflects strong influences from the art of Andalusia. The names of the ivory carvers, Master Engelram and his son Redolfo, appear on the shrine. These Germanic names suggest that foreign artists had a prominent place in the art of the pilgrimage road leading to the famous shrine of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela.