Triptych with the Passion of Christ

Date: ca. 1475–85

Culture: South German

Medium: Mother-of-pearl, gilt wood frame, silk backing, and tooled leather covering

Dimensions: Overall (closed): 8 5/16 x 4 9/16 x 1 5/8 in. (21.2 x 11.6 x 4.2 cm)
Overall (open): 8 3/8 x 9 7/16 x 7/8 in. (21.2 x 24 x 2.2 cm)
wings: 8 3/8 x 2 3/16 x 5/8 in. (21.2 x 5.6 x 1.6 cm)

Classification: Miscellaneous-Shell

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 2006

Accession Number: 2006.249


Of modest scale but with a commanding presence, this gilt wood devotional triptych mounted with a series of mother-of-pearl plaques in openwork relief is a great rarity. It appears to be the only such triptych decorated with this lustrous and highly prized material to survive intact. The format and arrangement of the plaques suggest a South German origin, perhaps in Augsburg, where the only other recorded example, illustrated in the early sixteenth-century catalogue of objects belonging to Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg, is said to have been made. Curiously, the narrative sequence of the Passion scenes on both triptychs begins with the plaque second from the top on the left wing and reads clockwise, with the final scene, the Crucifixion, in the center. Like goldsmiths, masters of the adjunct art of mother-of-pearl carving relied directly or indirectly on prints and model books for their compositions. These plaques appear to be loosely based on the small Passion engravings of the Master E.S.