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Plaque dite "du Paradis terrestre"

© 1985 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
Early Middle Ages

Bardoz Marie-Cécile

The human figures, animals, and monsters illustrate the descriptions from The Etymologies, by St. Isidore of Seville, and are sculpted on the back of a diptych leaf of the Consul Areobindus (Constantinople, 506).

The different orders of Creation

The plaque is sculpted on the back of a diptych leaf of Areobindus, consul in Constantinople in 506. This re-use of the back of the leaf was due to the shortage of elephant ivory in the latter part of the ninth century. The central part is divided into seven sections portraying, from top to bottom: Adam and Eve naked; centaurs and sirens; satyrs, dog-faced baboons, and a minotaur; a gryphon, lions, and a unicorn; a stag, ram, bull, and goat; a horse, dromedary, and wild boar; an elephant and a chameleon. Despite the presence of Adam and Eve, this is a representation not of the Earthly Paradise, but of the different orders of Creation. The description is based on the seventh-century text The Etymologies, by St. Isidore of Seville, which Raban Maur drew on for his De Universo in 844.

Works in ivory at the time of Charles the Bald

The formal beauty of this ivory is partly due to its fluid grace of line and the sharpness of the artist's observation of the flora and fauna. It also reveals a thorough knowledge and understanding of classical models. The plaque bears resemblances to the Tournus "flabellum" or liturgical fan in the Bargello (National Museum of Sculpture) in Florence. The figures on the fan case are of exactly the same type as Adam and Eve here. Both come from an ivory-carving workshop serving the court of Charles the Bald around 870.


Lasko Peter, Ars Sacra, 800-1200, Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth, 1972 ; 2e éd. corrigée, Yale University Press, 1994.

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, "Le Flabellum de Tournus : son origine et sa place dans l'art carolingien", in Saint-Philibert de Tournus. Histoire. Archéologie. Art. Actes du colloque du centre international d'Études romanes, 15-19 juin 1994, Tournus, 1995, pp. 585-612.

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, La Neustrie. Les pays au nord de la Loire de Dagobert à Charles le Chauve (VII-IXe siècles), Rouen, musée des Antiquités de la Seine-Maritime, n 120, 1985-1986.

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Les Ivoires médiévaux, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 41.

Technical description

  • Entourage de Charles le Chauve

    Plaque dite "du Paradis terrestre"

    Vers 870 - 875

  • Ivoire

    H. : 34 cm. ; L. : 11 cm. ; Pr. : 0,90 cm.

  • Acquisition 1863 , 1863

    Reverse of a diptych leaf of the Consul Areobindus

    OA 9064

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Room 501

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