Fitzwilliam Museum. McClean Bequest.

Catalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean online

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Online LibraryFitzwilliam Museum. McClean BequestCatalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean → online text (page 3 of 14)
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It is significant that Carlovingian sculpture is itself almost entirely
a sculpture in ivory, and is largely inspired by work of small dimen-
sions. Here and there the remains of Roman glyptic art seen by
the Prankish conquerors in Italy or Southern France incited their
artists to imitation ; but as a rule the Franks seem to have relied
upon less bulky models; for these could be more easily carried off
to the great monasteries in the northern part of their dominions
where most of their artistic work was done. The more fruitful
sources of inspiration were thus almost certainly the diptychs, the
book-covers, and the illuminated manuscripts, which had been
coming into Western Europe from the sixth century onwards.
Some were introduced by way of Italy, and of these a part were
doubtless of early Italian origin ; but a number must have been
brought by the direct sea route from the Christian East to the
ports in the south of France. Even before the sixth century,
oriental monks and merchants, especially those of Syria, had been
streaming into Gaul and Rhenish Germany: their tombstones have
been found as far north as Treves, and the earliest records of the
Western Churches contain no names more conspicuous than theirs^
It was not in Ravenna alone that the Syrian ecclesiastic won his
way to eminence : the influence of his countrymen was so strong
in the West that about A.D. 591 a Syrian could impose his own
election to the See of Paris. When the invading Arab conquered
their native countries, these Syrian and Egyptian monks emigrated
in great numbers to the West"; the monuments of the seventh and
eiehth centuries show abundant traces of their artistic influence
over their new compatriots, whose art was still in a more barbaric
stage. In Rome itself this influence is one of the most striking
features of the dark ages. Various frescoes, among which those of
Sta Maria Antiqua beneath the Palatine Hill are conspicuous,
afford evidence that the monks of the Ripa Gracca had not for-
gotten the arts learned on the Nile and the Orontes ; and not the
least instructive feature of the treasure recently brought to light in

^ L. Brehier, Les colonies d^orientmix en OccicLnt an contmcn(ciucnt dii Moyen Ai;e, 111
Byzantinische Zeiischrijt, 1903, pp. i — 39, where other references \\ill l)c foiiiul.

2 — 2


the relic-chest of Leo in the Chapel of the Saiicta Sanctorum at
the Lateran, is the consistently Eastern character of the ancient
works of art of which it is composed'. If we turn to the dominions
of the Franks, the same influences are found in operation. The
pages of the earliest Merovingian illuminated manuscripts are
covered with designs which originated east of the Adriatic ; and
when, with the Carolingian line, the artists attempt compositions
of a more ambitious kind, whole subjects were almost literally
reproduced from earlier Syrian manuscripts. Such books as the
Gospels of Godescalc or of St Medard, are full of Eastern inspira-
tion, alike in the figures and the ornamental motives-. Still further
to the West, the illuminators and the stone carvers of Ireland and
Northumbria were borrowing from identical sources. The peacocks
or the evangelists writing at their desks in the manuscripts, the
vine-scrolls with birds in their convolutions on such crosses as those
of Bewcastle and Ruthwell and the Acca cross at Hexham, alike
confirm the historical evidence as to the connection of St Patrick
with the Church of Gaul and the acquisitions of works of art in
Rome by Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth^ The interlacings
which, like the undergrowths of a tropical jungle, destroyed the
ancient designs of pagan Celtic art, were importations from an
Italy already schooled in what M. Courajod called the " oriental
grammar" of design. The diagonal frets and other characteristic
motives are perhaps of more directly Eastern importation : so also
may be certain obscure figure-subjects upon the high crosses, one
of which seems to have persisted in the enamel upon the Alfred
Jewel, preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxfords

The works of art which these immigrants brought with them
into their new homes were naturally portable objects, textiles,
manuscripts, and ivory carvings. We have already seen that with
the decline of classical taste the ivory carver tended to become the
chief representative of the glyptic art in its higher phases. When

1 p. Lauer, Monuments Plot, 1906 : Le tn'sor dii Sand a Sanctoniiii ; H. Grisar,
Civilth Cattolica, 1906 ; Edinburgh Review, 1907, p. 465.

"^ J. Strzygowski, Byzantinische Denkmiiler, I ; Das Etsciimiadzin Evangeliar.

' For sculpture of this period see Messrs Prior and Gardner's article on English
figure-sculpture in the Architectural Review, Vol. xn, 1902. The authors suggest the
importance of ivories to great figure-art.

^ Proc. Soc. of Antiquaries of London, 2nd ser., XX, pp. /iff.


therefore Charles the Great encouraged a revival of the arts, ivory
carvings were destined to play a most important part in the artistic
histor)' of Europe. It fell to them to revive the sense of plastic
form, and to arouse the ambition of the monastic craftsmen whose
numbers were now being rapidly multiplied under the patronage of
the court and the Church ; at the same time the manuscripts which
had been imported with them taught a more extensive knowledge
of iconography and composition. The ivories and the miniatures
were the chief agents which together formed the schools of
Carolingian sculpture, and the Prankish artist took advantage of
both ; but the influence of manuscripts became almost dangerous
as soon as the ivory carvers resorted not to the Syrian illuminated
books themselves, but to the Carolingian copies of their miniatures.
For the illuminators who worked in the monasteries in the time of
Charlemagne were not always successful in reproducing the pictorial
quality of the figures which they copied ; only the best of them
could achieve so difficult a task. Many from the first yielded to
the temptation to adopt a linear style with precise contours
and somewhat harsh adjacent colours, the characteristic weakness
of an inexperienced or a negligent art. Some of the miniatures of
the Syrian Gospel of Etchmiadzin (sixth century) already show its
adoption ; and it has been well remarked that the mosaics of the
Roman churches become more and more linear as they descend
the path of degeneration': the hard, circumscribed forms of the
figures in St Praxed are very different for example from those of
St Pudenziana or St Maria Maggiore. This relapse into a linear
treatment distinguishes a large number of Carolingian ivories. In
some Carolingian work indeed, where a plastic original has been
carefully studied, the modelling approaches that of the best
Early Christian reliefs ; but in other cases the artist seems to
abandon the hope of rendering the delicate transitions from one
plane to another, and falls back, like many contemporary illu-
minators, upon the easier linear method. He is still a sculptor ;
he does not sink to the level of the pattern-carvers in flat relief;

1 This indolent acquiescence in contour must be distinguished from the deliberate
preference of the great Cliinese and Japanese artists, whose significant and nervous line,
instinct in every part with the suggestion of life and motion, is the chosen vehicle of
their national genius.


but he contaminates his work by the introduction of a caligraphic


To the cah'graphic school of sculpture in ivory one of the most
important reliefs in the McClean Bequest (no. 34) belongs. In this
school, the folds of the draperies are multiplied to excess ; their
borders are often undulated to suggest the fluttering caused by
violent action ; there is a general effort to suggest a movement
often unjustified by the situation of the figure represented. The
school is influenced by a group of illuminated manuscripts, known,
after the princess for which one of the earliest books was painted,
as the Ada Groups Dr Adolph Goldschmidt has discussed the
various ivories in which these affinities are conspicuous, suggesting
that the earlier among them originated in the lifetime of Charlemagne
himself-. They may thus be assigned to a period which begins
not far from the year A.D. 800; and Dr Goldschmidt believes
that none are later than the earlier part of the ninth century.
He admits the possibility that the tradition of the style may have
been continued into the tenth century, but does not think so pro-
tracted an existence probable. (See the note under no. 33 in the

The difference in quality between various members of the
groups often very great, may indeed be explained by the varying
skill of individual craftsmen no less easily than by the lapse of
time, for it is not a safe rule in archaeology to assume that poor
work necessarily implies a debased period. Dr Goldschmidt may
well be right in assigning the group as a whole to the early ninth

1 H. Janitschek, Die Trierer Ada-Handschrift ; Sauerland and Haseloff, Der
Psalter Erzbischof Egberts zu Trier, iqoi. (The Egbert Psalter is affiliated to the Ada

2 Elfenbeinreliefs aus der Zeit Carls des Grosseii, in Jahrbuch der kottiglich preussis-
chen Kitnsisammlmigen, 1905. The ivory panels which chiefly help to decide the date
are in the Louvre : the manuscript (a psalter), for the cover of which they appear to have
been originally made, is iu the Imperial Library at Vienna.

^ Several ivories of the group are in England. The British Museum has the Sneyd
pyxis {Archaeologia, LViH, pp. 429 ff.) and a panel with New Testament subjects. The
Victoria and Albert Museum has the large Lorsch book-cover (W. Maskell, Description
of the Ivories, p. 53; H. Graeven, Byzantinische Zdtschri/t, 1901, p. i), of which the
companion is in the Vatican (R. Kanzler, Avori... delta Biblioteca Vaticana : Aluseo
Cristiano,'-p\. iv). The Bodleian Library has the remarkable book-cover (Westwood,
Fictile Ivories, pi. vi) to be mentioned below.


century. tlioiiL;li the classification cannot yet be regarded as finally
established. It remains, however, a possible alternative to suppose
that the spirit of conservatism may have preserved the style for
about a hundred years, and that some of the more careless examples
may belong to the end of the period. The McClean panel is
among the most interesting examples of the series, from its evident
and close association with the antique. I'he head of Christ might
almost be of the third or fourth century S and the rendering of the
hair, which looks as if it had been drilled, as it was in the stone
sculpture of that period, is perhaps unique in ivory carving. The
ornamental details also betray antique influence. The laurel
wreath enclosing the mandorla is distinctly classical ; it is seldom
found in Carolingian ivories, and then usually in examples
belonging to this group-. The drapery, however, is quite un-
classical, and clearly betrays the later and northern origin.

We cannot say with certainty in this particular case whether
the ivory carver was inspired by a painted or a sculptured model,
though the treatment of the hair suggests the second alternative.
But there are other ivories in the series as to which a certain
answer can be given to the question. The curious book-cover in
the Bodleian Library at Oxford^ simulates in a single piece of
ivory one of those large composite diptych-leaves made of five
parts, which were first used as presents to emperors from newly
appointed Consuls, and afterwards as covers for books of the
Gospels. On each of the lateral panels of this book-cover are
three small New Testament scenes one above the other. Now a
corresponding panel of a composite diptych-leaf of the fourth
century, now at Berlin, has the same three scenes in the same
order, the figures being arranged in so identical a manner that a
direct imitation can hardly be doubted^ In other cases it is not

^ It is one of the late Ilelleiiistic types which disputed tlie tiehl so long with the
bearded oriental head, and for certain representations of Our Lord remained popular
during the earlier Middle Ages. See J. Strzygowski, Christiis in Hcllenistisiher uiui
orienlalischer Auffiissung, in Bei/a^v to ihe Allgcmciiie Zciitittg, Jan. 19th, 1903; E. von
Dobschiitz, Christiisbilder.

- E.g., the panel in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum at Berlin (Konigliche Museen,
Beschrdbung der Bildwcrke der Christlichen Epocheii, Die Elfenbeinhildwerke, by
W. Voge, no. 39 A (Berlin, 1902).

•* Westwood, Fictile Ivories, pi. vi.

■• A. llo.^e:\o^, /ahrbuch der koniglich preussischen h'linstsnuii/ilinigtn, xxiv. 1903.


possible to prove the debt of the Carolingian artist with quite the
same precision, though the sources of his inspiration are hardly less
obvious. This is the case with an ivory pyxis in the British
Museum^, which in its style betrays a Carolingian origin, but in
its subjects is of one family with the pyxes made in Syria and
Egypt in the fifth and sixth centuries. So again with the large
composite diptych in the Victoria and Albert Museum based upon
a lost model some three centuries earlier in date-.

In these cases we find the ivory carvers reproducing a plastic
model. But it has already been remarked that although they'
would naturally prefer to copy a relief, they must often have been
influenced by pictorial art^. The history of ivory carving shows a
sufficiency of examples in which the suggestion has come possibly
from mosaics and certainly from illuminated miniatures. Some of
the larger ivory panels of the sixth century are so monumental in
conception that they seem translations of subjects in mosaic : a
central panel from a composite diptych of the sixth century
now in the British Museum, has this character^ In the curious
Byzantine ivory caskets with rosette-borders, the earliest of which
are attributed to the ninth century, we find episodes clearly copied
from the original of the Joshua rotulus in the Vatican^ But it is

^ Archaeologia, LViii, p. 429.

^ See note 3, p. 22 above.

^ It is noteworthy that some of the cleverest ivory carvers of the Christian period
seem to have taken great pains to find models of fine quality. It can hardly be doubted
that the carver of the fine fourth century diptych commemorating an alliance between
the families of the Symmachi and Nicomachi, of which the two leaves are in the Victoria
and Albert Museum and in the Musee de Cluny at Paris, was directly inspired by a
relief in the style of the Attic sepulchral stelae of seven hundred years earlier. The
well-known panel in the British Museum with the Archangel Michael, perhaps produced
in Syria at about the same time, has Hellenic affinities, like the figures upon the
sarcophagi of the Sidamara type (Journal of Hellenic Studies, xxvii, 1907, pp. 99 ff-),
which are inspired by statues of the period before Alexander. So that in the early
centuries of the Christian era we find a conscious reversion to Greek models both in
work presumably executed in Rome, and in contemporary work originating in the East.

* Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, 1904, pp. 209 ff. The com-
panion to this ivory is in the Collection Martin de Roy at Paris, Catalogue, Vol. i, p. r.

■' H. Graeven, Ein Reliqiiienkdstchen aiis Pirano, in Jahrbuch der kitnUhistorischen
Sammlungen des allerhochsten Kaiserhauses , 1899, pp. 8 — 9 ; cf. also Jahrbuch der
k. preussischen KunstsainDihingen, xvill, pp. i fif. On a casket at Xanten, the Herakles
of Lysippus, which stood in the Hippodrome at Constantinople, is copied. On these


precisely the Carolincjian ivory carvers who afford the most striking
examples of such literal imitation. More than one (>( their panels
which have come down to us illustrate verses of the Psalms ; there
is so close a resemblance between two ivories and the drawings
reproducing the same subjects in the Utrecht Psalter and other
psalters of its class that a direct imitation is indubitable. One of
these plaques, on the cover of the Psalter of Charles the Bald in
the National Library at Paris, illustrates Psalm Ivii. 5 — 7 ; the other
in the Museum at Ziirich, Psalm xxvii. 2K In the first we see an
Angel seated upon a kind of couch or bed, holding on his knees a
soul in the usual mediaeval form of a diminutive human figure,
while to right and left are ravening lions (et cripuit aniniam niccvn
de medio catuloriun Iconiun : dorniivi coiitiirbatus). Below^, an armed
group stands in menacing attitudes, while in the foreground one
digs a pit into which men are falling headlong. {Denies eorinn
anna et sagittae, ct lingua corian gladins acutiis.... Foderiint ante
faciern meani foveain et incideriint in earn?)

The second ivory, similarly following its manuscript original
point for point, shows us in the foreground a camp and a troop of
soldiers. Above, on the left, David is seen led into the safety of
the temple before which is an altar with a lamb before it. {Si
cofisistant adversnni me castra non timebit cor menm. Qiioniam
abscondit me in tabernaciilo sua.... inimolavi in tabernacnlo ejus
hostiam vociferationis.) On the right, a man and a woman stand
with averted gaze before a building. {Quoniam pater mens et mater
mea dcreliquerunt me.) Except in the larger groups, where the
ivory carver reduces the number of the figures, the correspondence
between the relief and the drawing is systematic and exact.

The two large panels of the sixth century (nos. 32, 33) represent
in the McClean Bequest reliefs of the period which must have
provided the Carolingian ivory carver with many models, though
they are exceptional for their great size, which suggests that they
may have been made to ornament the front of a bishop's throne

caskets see also A. Venturi, Le gallerie nazionali italiane, in, 1897, pp. 261 ft". ; and
Storia delP arte italiana, I, 512. Prof. Venturi assigns an earlier date to the caskets
than that which is commonly accepted.

' Cahier and Martin, Mi'langcs ifarcht'ologif, I, j^l. xlv; K. Molinier, Ivoires,
pp. 123 — 125. In the \'ulgate the two Psalms are hi and xxvi respectively.


similar to the well-known chair at Ravenna. It must not be
supposed, however, that the Carlovingian artist was always a
slavish copyist. The splendid panel, no. 34, the most valuable
ivory in the collection, is not, like no. 34, visibly dependent upon
an early prototype. It is a more original work, of great importance
for the history of vestments in the ninth and tenth centuries, though
not evincing in any high degree the classical feeling for form. The
somewhat hard precision of its style adds to its value as an
ecclesiological document ; but from the point of view of develop-
ment, it has less significance for the student than the Christ in
Majesty. With its fellow at Frankfort', it stands in a class apart,
a work of unique quality, but illustrating less perfectly than many
other ivories the general artistic tendencies of its age.

When next we trace the influence of foreign models upon the
ivory carving of Europe, a new source of inspiration has been
opened to the Western artist. There had been a renaissance in
the Eastern Empire under Basil the Macedonian and his line ; the
gropings and uncertainties of the iconoclastic period had termi-
nated in the creation of a new and homogeneous style. When,
therefore, under the Saxon Emperors, Western art underwent a
new revival, affecting a part of Europe which was now definitely
German, models of this newer Byzantine style were at the disposal
of the Teutonic artist, and helped to impress a distinctive character
on his work. The relations between the Ottos and the Eastern
Emperors were consistently friendly : the third Otto married the
Princess Theophanu, a union commemorated by an ivory panel
now in the Musee de Cluny at Paris : and towards the end of the
tenth century we find in sculpture, as in other arts, a conspicuous
Byzantine influence. The McClean Bequest contains only two
Byzantine ivories of this period with human figures, the small
panel with the Crucifixion (no. 38) and that with the half-figure
of Our Lord (no. 37). The casket (no. 36) illustrates rather the
oriental and non-Hellenic side of contemporary Byzantine art, the
animals and monsters with which it is ornamented descend through
the art of Sassanian Persia from very ancient prototypes in

' Passavant, Archjv fi'ir Frankfurter GescJiichle, i, 1858, pi. i; Westwood, Fictile
Ivories, p. 448.


Mesopotamia. The animals of similar descent upon contemporary
Saracenic caskets, of which the more important examples come
from Spain', may have influenced Romanesque sculptors in France;
in any case the family to which they belong, a family represented
upon silk textiles as well as upon ivories, was certainly a prolific
source of inspiration to early mediaeval sculpture in the West of
Europe. And not to sculpture alone ; for the mosaic pavements
and the illuminated manuscripts of the time are also pervaded
by their influence. The McClean casket, which, from its added
intarsia-work, was evidently at one time in the North of Italy, is
among the rarer examples of the considerable class characterised
by borders of rosettes, most of which have panels carved not with
animals but with human figures-. The class as a whole seems to
belong to the period between the ninth and thirteenth centuries,
the best examples, such as the Veroli Casket in the Victoria and
Albert Museum, being of the earlier date. Their figure-subjects
are largely derived from classical mythology ; and they are
supposed to have originated at the close of the iconoclastic
period, when artists were driven to seek their models far from
the usual Christian sources. The classical tradition was always
latent in the Eastern Empire, and it may well be that these caskets
were brought into being by the revulsion in favour of pagan types
to which iconoclasm gave rise ; but whether, as Dr Graeven argued,
they were produced in Constantinople itself, is a question to which
a final answer has yet to be given. They were imitated by ivory
carvers in North Italy in the twelfth century^; and the McClean
example is of the class which may have served to inspire the
Italian copyist.

Although the influence of ivories upon Romanesque reliefs with
human figures is not so immediately obvious, it is attested by

^ E. Molinier, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1898, pp. 490 ff. ; G. Migcon, Manuel dart
Mttsiilntan, 11, ch. iv, Paris, 1907, and ExpositioJi des arts Mtisulmans, pis. v — viii.
Fine examples of these caskets are in the South Kensington Museum, and in the Louvre,
but many are still in Spain, in the Cathedrals of Palencia, Pampluna and S. Isidore de
Leon, in the Museum of Burgos &c.

^ See note 5, p. 24 above. The best example in England is that from the Cathedral
of Veroli, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

^ Examples of such imitations are in the Museums of Pisa and Ravenna and in the
collection of Count Stroganoff at Rome (H. Graeven, Elfenheiniverke in photographiseher
Nachbildung, Series n, Ans Sammlungen in Italien, nos. 52, 53, and 78).


students of that early sculpture of the South of France which so
profoundly modified European art in the twelfth century. The
monographs which Dr Voge has devoted to this subject are of the
highest interest : he shows how strong is the probability that the
ivory carving took its place by the side of the miniature among
the models in the workshops of Southern France\ But fortunately
it is possible to produce individual examples which bring conviction
even to the untrained eye. Dr Goldschmidt has demonstrated the
close affinities between the enthroned Christ over the doorway of
the Church of St Godehard at Hildesheim and a characteristic
Byzantine ivory carving of the eleventh century^. The very rapid
improvement of style in local sculpture during the twenty years
from A.D. 1190 — A.D. 1210 can only be explained by the successful
imitation of foreign models, which at that time must have been
provided by the minor arts. Affinities of this nature help the
student to realise how potent was the influence of the Eastern
minor arts in the period preceding the rise of the Gothic styles.
For the ivory carving we may perhaps claim that its influence was
most beneficent of all, because it did most to improve the natural
representation of the human figure.

In the Gothic period the art of the ivory carver enjoyed its

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Online LibraryFitzwilliam Museum. McClean BequestCatalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean → online text (page 3 of 14)