Diptych with Scenes of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, Saint Michael, John the Baptist, Thomas Becket, and the Trinity

Date: ca. 1350

Geography: Made in Cologne, Germany

Culture: German

Medium: Elephant ivory

Dimensions: Overall (open): 10 x 8 5/16 x 3/8 in. (25.5 x 21.1 x 0.9 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1970

Accession Number: 1970.324.8a, b


This large, richly carved diptych is distinct from the many surviving fourteenth-century French diptychs. Stylistically, it can be compared to a number of German sculptures, especially the marble reliefs from the high altar of Cologne Cathedral dating before 1322. The diptych also incorporates a number of scenes that, in terms of iconography, are unusual to ivory carving. The sequence begins at lower left, with two standard episodes from the life of Christ: the Annunciation and the Nativity with the Annunciation to the Shepherds. This routine narrative is interrupted at lower right by scenes of saints, which are rarely depicted in ivory carving. Saint Michael Triumphant over the Dragon and Saint John the Baptist with the Sacrificial Lamb appear to the left of the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket. The second and third registers continue with well-known images: the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, with the Crucifixion to the right, and the Resurrection of Christ and Descent into Limbo, with the Ascension to the right. Atypical scenes return in the upper register: the Coronation of the Virgin at upper left; the Trinity surrounded by symbols of the Four Evangelists, to the right of center; and, in the upper right corner, the Virgin nursing the Christ Child as she is crowned by angels.