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Work Two plaques:The Multiplication of the Bread and FishChrist Designating a Child

Department of Decorative Arts: Early Middle Ages

Openwork Panel

© Musée du Louvre / Objets d'Art

Decorative Arts
Early Middle Ages

Author(s):
Bardoz Marie-Cécile

The Musée du Louvre owns two plaques from the group known as the "Magdeburg Ivories". They were part of a set (pulpit, altar frontal, chancel door?) offered by the emperor Otto I (936-973) to the monastery of Saint Mauritius in Magdeburg probably around 968 when it was raised to the seat of an archbishopric. There are sixteen plaques still extant. The two plaques in the Louvre have different styles and were produced by separate artists active in the same workshop appointed to Otto I.

The "Magdeburg Ivories"

The plaques belonged to a group decorating a monument erected for the emperor Otto I (d. 973) and destined to adorn the interior of the monastery of Saint Mauritius in Magdeburg, which the emperor had founded and where he wished to be buried. Today there are sixteen of these plaques left. Their original destination remains unclear: were they fixed on an antependium, a throne or on chancel doors? What is certain is that the monument was dismantled very soon on, probably as early as the beginning of the 11th century.

The romanesque esthetic

All of the same size, the plaques are carved in a thick piece of ivory and framed with a large smooth border. The scenes, with their openwork details, were probably set on a ground of color that enhanced the beautiful quality of the ivory. The carving of The Multiplication of the Bread and Fish, in which the characters crowd around the figure of Christ, is powerfully contoured. The geometric forms and the synthetic composition of this group of ivories designate them as pieces of major importance - and this despite the fact that they are not the work of one artist (particularly in the case of the other plaque in the Louvre, Christ Designating a Child). On this one plaque, the tinier figures, the denser composition and the pleats of the draped robes all reveal the influence of Byzantine art. Following the tradition and the esthetic established for ivories in Metz in the second half of the 9th century - particularly in the massive rendition of the characters - this set of plaques at the same time already heralds some of the canons of romanesque art. It is one of the major works of the Ottonian period.

Bibliography

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Catalogue d'exposition, Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Objets d'art 1990-1994, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1995, notice 17.

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Catalogue des collections du département des Objets d'art : Les ivoires médiévaux, Paris, RMN, 2003, n 47.

Technical description

  • Workshop appointed to Otto I

    Two plaques:The Multiplication of the Bread and FishChrist Designating a Child

    Circa 968

    Magdeburg Cathedral; former Possenti, Bardac, Larcade collection

  • Ivory

    H. 12.20 cm; W. 12 cm; D. 5 to 8 mm

  • Gift of the Société des Amis du Louvre, 1909

    OA 6310, OA 11372

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Suger
    Room 2

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