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Department of Decorative Arts: Early Middle Ages

Deux plaques : Multiplication des pains et des poissonsLe Christ désignant un enfant

© Musée du Louvre / Objets d'Art

Decorative Arts
Early Middle Ages

Bardoz Marie-Cécile

The Louvre has two panels from a group known as the Magdeburg Ivories, a set of sixteen panels given to the church of St. Maurice in Magdeburg by Emperor Otto I (d. 973), probably when it became a cathedral in 968. Differing in style, the two panels in the Louvre are the work of different artists employed in the same workshop, commissioned by Otto.

An episode that is seldom depicted

The scene is set against a background pierced with crosses. A child stands in the center, surrounded by larger figures, among them the haloed Christ, who is leaning toward the child and pointing him out to the apostles, one of whom is recognizable as St. Peter. The scene comes from a relatively unfamiliar episode in the New Testament (and one seldom depicted in medieval iconography), when Christ calls a small child to him and says to the apostles: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18: 1-6; Luke 9: 47-48).

The Magdeburg Ivories

The powerful modeling, geometrical forms, and compact composition identify this panel as one of the Magdeburg Ivories, of which sixteen survive today. They will originally have adorned an important item of church furnishing - an antependium, bishop's throne, or chancel door, for instance - and were donated to the abbey church of St. Maurice by Emperor Otto I (936-973), most likely when the abbey became a cathedral on the establishment of Magdeburg as an archbishopric in 968. Whatever its function, the original piece was dismantled not very long after, at the beginning of the eleventh century. That more than one artist was involved in carving the ivories can be seen by comparing this panel with the other one in the Louvre, which depicts the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.
The Magdeburg Ivories combine influences from the Metz ivories of the second half of the ninth century (visible in the massive quality of the figures), with features characteristic of the Romanesque. The same synthesis can be seen in the late eleventh-century statuary of Toulouse, indicating the key role played by objets d'art as a source of inspiration to sculptors.


Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Objets d'art (1990-1994), Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995, notice 17.
Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Les ivoires médiévaux, Catalogue des collections du département des Objets d'art, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, n 47, 2003.

Technical description

  • Workshop commissioned by OTTO I

    Deux plaques : Multiplication des pains et des poissonsLe Christ désignant un enfant

    Atelier travaillant pour Otton Ier vers 968

  • Ivoire

    H. : 12,20 cm. ; L. : 12 cm.

  • Ancienne collection Possenti, Bardac, LarcadeDon de la société des Amis du Louvre, 1909 : OA 6310Ancienne collection Martin Le Roy ; acquisition 1993 : OA 11372


    OA 6310, OA 11372

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Room 502
    Vitrine 4

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