Date: ca. 850–900
Geography: Made in Reims (perhaps), France
Medium: Elephant ivory with traces of paint
Dimensions: 3 7/8 x 3 1/16 x 3/16 in. (9.9 x 7.8 x 0.5 cm)
Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 2000
Accession Number: 2000.486
In the age of Charlemagne and his successors, biblical themes frequently conveyed political, moral, or ecclesiastical messages. This exquisite ivory carving portrays two unusual scenes focusing on Christ, the apostles, and a mantle. Since Christ traditionally wears only a tunic, he is presumably giving his mantle to an apostle in the presence of others. The episode does not seem to conform to a specific Gospel; it probably refers more generally to Christ's charge to his apostles to continue his ministry by accepting the mantle, or pallium, as an emblem of "apostolic mission" (Matthew 10:1–14). The message may also recall Isaiah (61:10), "my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation . . . [and] with the robe of righteousness." A possible political sentiment may also be conveyed, as when Christ says, "they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses" (Matthew 11:8). Probably made to decorate the cover of a liturgical manuscript, the ivory has striking narrative power. The narrow stage space, flowing groundline, and fleshy figures in garments with soft, curving edges exemplify some of the main stylistic trends of the second half of the ninth century associated with the court school of Charles the Bald (r. 840–77). The school's exact location in northern France is debated.