Triptych, ca. 1250–75
North French; possibly Paris
Ivory, paint, gilding with metal mounts; Overall (wings opened) 9 1/16 x 5 1/2 x 1 3/16 in. (23 x 14 x 3 cm), overall (wings closed) 3 3/8 in. (8.5 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.279a–e)
The central panel of this triptych, carved in high relief, depicts two essential mysteries of Christian faith. The lower register presents the crowned Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child; the adoring angels on either side recognize the divinity of the infant Christ. The upper register depicts the Crucifixion with Mary and John the Evangelist witnessing Christ's sacrificial death for the sake of humankind.
The wings add a polemical and political tone to the devotions enacted with the triptych. On the lower register, the apostles Peter and Paul (holding their respective attributes of key and sword) observe the Virgin and Child, symbolizing the two main communities that contributed to early Christianity—Jews and Gentiles. Above Peter and Paul stand allegorical representations of the Christian church (Ecclesia) and the Jewish Faith (Synagoga). Ecclesia, brandishing a spear, proclaims the Christian religion triumphant over the blinded and broken Synagoga. Medieval Christians held that the Crucifixion annulled God's special covenant with the People of Israel by making a new covenant with Christ's sacrifice.