Crozier Head, ca. 1350
Ivory; Overall 5 13/16 x 3 1/8 x 1 1/2 in. (14.8 x 8 x 3.8 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.164)
This crozier, a hooked staff carried by abbots and bishops as a symbol of their pastoral office, is carved to resemble a budding branch curved back on itself by two angels to form the hook or crook. The living branch makes explicit reference to the cross on which Jesus was crucified, often called the Tree of Life, and this equivalence is made stronger with the Crucifixion scene on one side of the crook, which shows the cross sprouting similar buds: according to this metaphor, the wooden cross, meant to bring death and suffering, instead brought the world everlasting life. This crozier was made for an abbot, who is shown on the reverse of the crook venerating the Virgin and Child alongside Saint Denis. A flowing branch for the abbot's crozier was an appropriate metaphor, as Christ was often described as the Good Shepherd, and the abbot was meant to emulate Christ while guiding his monastery.
Saint Denis, the patron saint of France, was an early bishop of Paris and was martyred by decapitation in the third century. His presence on the crozier may suggest that it was made for an abbot at a monastery named after this important French saint.