With more than 4445 pieces and 12500 photos, the Gothic Ivories Project has become a very important resource for medievalists. We celebrate the intiative by presenting a recently recorded Diptych with Scenes from the Passion of Christ from Sarnen in Switzerland
The production of ivory objects flourished to an extraordinary extent in the Gothic period, especially in France: delicate statuettes, minutely carved diptychs and triptychs, mirror backs and wonderful caskets with secular scenes have survived in collections allover the world. For a long time the last comprehensive survey was from 1924 and listed 1300 pieces, but it was always apparent that hidden masterpieces – as the one we show today – can be found in obscure collections all over the world.
Since 2008 a group of art historians under the auspices of the ‘Gothic Ivories Project at The Courtauld Institute of Art’ has succeeded in cataloguing more than 4445 pieces and has uploaded more than 12500 photos. This website is thus a unique and generous way to allow for the study of these delicate pieces of art, which are often kept away in unknown treasuries in far-away corners of Europe; and – if exhibits – protected by silly old-fashioned rules of photo-restrictions.
Recently more pieces were added to the website: Carvings from the Galleria Estense in Modena, the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne, the Deutsches Elfenbeinmuseum in Erbach, a diptych in the Benediktiner-Kollegium in Sarnen (Switzerland), and many more.
The Passion of Christ from Sarnen
One of these pieces, which the recent additions help to bring to our attentions is a diptych with scenes from the Passion of Christ.
Originally the diptych belonged to the Abbey of Muri in the Canton of Argau, near Basel in Switzerland, founded in 1018. At the suppression in 1841, it was brought by the monks to the Benediktiner College in Sarnen, which is now part of the Muri-Gries monastery in South Tyrol in Italy (successor to the old monastery). Apparently the diptych is not exhibited and cannot be studied without special permission. It has not been possible to locate any references to the piece on the website of the present owner. Without the help of the Gothic Ivories Project we would simply not know of this beautiful piece.
The diptych measures 11 cm x 8,6 cm, is extensively guilded and with later polychromy. It dates to around 1330 and was probably made in Germany.
It shows a series of scenes from the passion:
- The raising of Lazarus in the presence of his sisters, Martha and Mary with Lazarus wrapped in a shroud.
- The Entry into Jerusalem with Jesus riding on the foal of the she-ass.
- Betrayal with the Kiss of Judas). Christ restores Malchus’ ear, cut by saint Peter. Death of Judas hanging in tree.
- Cruxifixion with the Virgin and John the Evangelist
- Deposition with the Virgin holding Christ’s arm and Joseph of Arimathea holding Christ’s body. Below a man with pincers is removing the nail from Christ’s feet. To the side is saint John the Evangelist.
- The three Holy Women at the Tomb, with an angel seated on the tomb and three soldiers asleep.
- Last Judgement with Resurrection of the Dead and Christ in Glory. Angels are shown holding Instruments of the Passion (nails). The Virgin Mary and saint John the Baptist are kneeling