Cast from ivory book cover in the Bodleian Library, Oxford – Photo of the day
Published by Geoff Barker on October 23, 2011 in Photo of the day.
Cast from ivory book cover in the Bodleian Library, Oxford
This photo-mechanical print is one of the 24 Woodburytypes pasted into J. O. Westwood’s 1876 publication, ‘Fictile [casts of] Ivories in the South Kensington Museum’.
This print shows the front of a book cover carved from Ivory in Italy between 800 and 1000. The cover is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and is an important example of early Christian art. In the centre is a youthful Christ, with long flowing hair and a cruciferous nimbus, treading down the lion, serpent, dragon and a young lion (Psalm xci, v. 13).
In his right hand he is holding a cross over his shoulders, and in his left an open book, inscribed IHS. XPS SUP(er) ASP(idem). Around him are twelve small compartments surrounded by borders ornamented with classical mouldings and pilasters, that contain representations of earlier scenes of the Gospel history and it is possible that the other part of the cover, which is now lost, showed later events with the Crucifixion in the centre.
Moving clockwise from the top left corner, the first compartment shows the prophet Isaiah standing by a tree holding a scroll inscribed ECCE VIRG(o) CONCI(piet) (Is. vii. 14) in Roman capitals, the C and G in the angulated form. The second compartment shows the Salutation of the archangel Gabriel. The Virgin Mary is sitting with her hands raised and open in front of her and her attendant is standing by a group of buildings. Gabriel, with a long rod, has just reached the ground and his wings are still partly extended. The third compartment shows the birth of Christ.
Joseph is sitting at the bottom to the right, Mary is sitting on the bed to the left and the infant Jesus is lying in swaddling clothes on the manger, with the heads of the ox and ass seen to the right. The fourth compartment shows the three Magi offering their gifts to Jesus who is sitting on Mary’s knees. The fifth compartment shows Herod commanding the slaughter of the children, one of whom lied dead at his feet, whilst another, who is larger than its mother who stands nearby with uplifted hands, is held by an attendant who is about to dash it to the ground.
The sixth compartment shows the Baptism of Christ, represented as a naked youth. The river Jorddan, in which his is to be baptised, flows out of a rock to the right. The Baptist, depicted as an aged man, stands to the left with his right hand on the head of Christ, over whom hovers the holy dove with rays springing from its beak. The seventh panel shows the first miracle at the marriage feast in Cana, with Christ commanding the servant to fill the six water-pots with water. The eighth compartment shows Christ asleep in the ship being woken by his three disciples.
The ninth compartment shows Christ restoring life to the ruler’s daughter (Matthwe ix. v. 25), who is lying on the bed, at the side of which stand her father and Christ, who has his right hand raised in benediction. The tenth compartment shows Christ driving the devils out of the demoniac and into the herd of swine, who are rushing downwards towards the sea.
The eleventh compartment shows Christ healing the paralytic, who is carrying his bed on his shoulders in the same way as is seen on early Christian sarcophagi. The twelfth compartment shows the woman with the bloody flux touching the hem of Christ’s clothes.
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