Tabernacle or Folding Shrine

Date: 14th century

Culture: French

Medium: Ivory with metal mounts

Dimensions: Overall: 9 9/16 x 8 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. (24.3 x 21.6 x 4.4 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.190.201


The central panel of this polyptych is a statuette of the Virgin and Child, almost carved completely in the round. The four hinged side panels close around the central panel to protect the delicate carving. The wings, carved in low relief, show scenes from the Infancy of Christ. These are, from left to right and top to bottom: the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Presentation in the Temple. Interestingly, in the scene of the Adoration of the Magi, the Virgin and Child are not represented again; rather, all three Wise Men are oriented toward the central Virgin and Child. In a sense, the magi may be understood to offer an example for what the viewer is meant to do: adore the Virgin and Child.

The relationship between mother and child is particularly intimate as was popular in the fourteenth century. Mary looks the Christ Child directly in the eye and lowers her head gently toward him. The infant Jesus, already depicted as the savior, lifts his right hand in a blessing, both to his mother and to the viewers.