Life and training of embroiderers, £8.99
Height: 40.000 mm
Width: 58.000 mm
Purchased from William Maskell
Prehistory and Europe
Ivory diptych with the Annunciation and the Crucifixion
14th century AD
This diptych is carved with two Biblical scenes. The left wing shows the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to explain that she had been chosen to be the mother of Christ. The scroll that unfurls from his left hand would have been painted with the words 'Ave Maria Gracia Plena' ('Hail Mary full of Grace'). The Virgin recoils, partly in fear and partly in recognition of the enormity of the task. The sway of her body echoes that of the body of Christ on the right wing of the diptych as he slumps on the cross. This compositional device stresses the Virgin's empathy with the suffering of Christ and neatly expresses the consequences of her acceptance of the will of God.
The two scenes each represent one of the principal joys and sorrows of the Virgin Mary. The emotional quality of this combination has particular poignancy when the feast of the Annunciation (25 March) corresponds with Good Friday, as in the year 2005. This coincidence occurs about every twenty years or so and it is perfectly possible that the ivory was carved to commemorate the event during one such year. Small-scale, portable ivories were very well suited to the personal devotion of the wealthy.
O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the ivory carving (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1909)