Height: 7.500 cm
Width: 9.800 cm
Panel from an ivory casket: Christ carrying the Cross
Late Roman, AD
Probably made in Rome
This plaque is one of four, which though now separated, must originally have been mounted on the four sides of a small square casket. Each is carved with scenes from Christ's Passion. The other panels depict the Crucifixion, the empty Sepulchre and Doubting Thomas.
This plaque brilliantly condenses three different scenes into a single unit. On the left, Pontius Pilate, seated on a throne on a raised platform, washes his hands in water poured by a male servant. In the centre Christ strides forward with the cross, accompanied by a Roman soldier. The soldier appears to be gesturing towards Peter who is seated before a brazier. He leans backwards from the cross and stretches out his hand toward Christ. In the background a woman points at him accusingly. Perched on a ledge above is a rooster, who signifies the fulfilment of Christ's prophecy to Peter: 'before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice' (Matthew 26:34).
Certain details carved on the plaques, such as the brazier on this scene and the sack of coins on the following, have parallels in illustrated manuscripts. It is thought therefore that a Passion text served as a model for these carvings.
The exact use of such beautifully decorated small boxes is not known. A small one like this may have been for private use, while other, larger examples were certainly ecclesiastical.
K. Weitzmann (ed.), Age of spirituality: Late Anti (New York, 1979)