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Fragment of an ivory panel showing the Baptism of Christ

 

Height: 8.950 cm

Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund and the Pilgrim Trust

M&ME 1974,10-2,1

    Fragment of an ivory panel showing the Baptism of Christ

    Anglo-Saxon, late 10th century AD
    From southern England

    An outstanding example of carving in the 'Winchester' style

    This panel fragment is made of walrus ivory carved in high relief and polished. The Arab conquest of the Mediterranean shores interrupted supplies of elephant ivory from Africa and Asia but walrus tooth ivory became more readily available through trade links with northern Scandinavia.

    This original untrimmed panel was probably mounted onto a book cover or casket. The number of fine Anglo-Saxon ivory carvings which have survived from this period reflects the outstanding skill of the craftsmen.

    The large figure with a halo is John the Baptist, his hand raised above the head of the young Christ who stands in the waters of the River Jordan. The Holy Spirit in the form of a descending dove would have completed this scene of Christ's baptism. John stands on the bank, his full length garment skilfully crafted into a dynamic and complex array of pleats and folds. In contrast, Christ is in a more restrained and static style. The pose of the figures, the flowing lines of the cloth and the waves of the river are characteristic of late Anglo-Saxon art. This is known as the Winchester style, named after the fine decoration of luxury manuscripts made in the royal capital of Winchester.

    E. Roesdahl and D.M. Wilson (eds), From Viking to crusader: the S (Sweden, Bohusläningens Boktryckeri, 1992)

    D.M. Wilson, Anglo-Saxon art (London, Thames and Hudson, 1984)

    J. Backhouse, D.H. Turner and L. Webster (eds.), The golden age of Anglo-Saxon, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

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