Ivory plaque with Nativity scenes

Carolingian, around AD 800
Probably from Aachen, Germany

The Annunciation, Nativity and Adoration of the Magi

This fine panel embodies the artistic trends of the early Carolingian Renaissance. The composition of the scenes copies ivory carvings of Late Antiquity, like the sixth-century ivory panel depicting the Adoration of the Magi, also in the British Museum. In spirit and treatment, however, the scenes are quite different from Early Christian and Byzantine art. The carving is less plastic and more linear, incorporating expressive hand gestures like those of the Virgin in the Annunciation scene. The multiple, fluttering drapery folds are very similar to those on miniatures of the earliest group of Carolingian illuminated manuscripts. Both manuscripts and ivory carvings consciously transformed their Byzantine models into a new northern European style.

This panel is one of a group of ivory carvings which are believed to have been produced at Aachen, the primary seat of Charlemagne, Holy Roman emperor (800-814). The panel was either half of a diptych or the outer wing of a five-part hinged carving that may have formed the cover for an illuminated gospel. The blue and red paint and traces of gilding visible on the panel are not original, but they do remind us that ivory, like marble sculpture in the ancient world, was traditionally painted in vivid polychromy.

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More information


R. Shepherd, We three kings: the Magi in ar (Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire Art Gallery, 1996)

D. Kötzsche. H. Küffner and G Mörsch (eds.), Charlemagne, oeuvre, rayonneme (Aix-la Chapelle, 1965)

O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the ivory carving (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1909)


Length: 168.000 mm
Width: 64.500 mm
Thickness: 6.000 mm

Museum number

M&ME 1856,6-23,17



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