Acquisition of a Byzantine Ivory Diptych by the Louvre


1/3/13 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée du Louvre - After being acknowledged as a National Treasure, a 13th century diptych sculpted in ivory, held in a private collection and planned for auction, finally joined the collections at the Louvre.
Marie-Christine Labourdette reminded us that the term of "Trésor national" is only the beginning of a race against time to find the funds needed to acquire an object with this qualification : in the case of this ivory, the race has been won and Henri Loyrette sang the praises of this fiscal measure which -more or less - helps to prevent the evaporation of French heritage. We should remember that the law of 1st August 2003 concerning patronage, associations and foundations completes the text of the law of 4 January 2002 concerning French museums, by allowing businesses to become patrons and benefit from encouraging fiscal advantages. The international audit and consulting group, Mazars, thus contributed generously to the acquisition of this work, as it had done previously for Poussin’s Flight into Egypt in 2007 (on deposit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon), Ingres’ Count Molé in 2009 and Cranach’s Three Graces in 2010.


1. Diptych Representing the Nativity,
the Crucifixion and eighteen prophets,
Constantinople, 13th century
Ivory - 29 x 21.6 x 1.1cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : 2013 Musée du Louvre/ Thierry Ollivier

2. Back of the Diptych
Constantinople, XIIIth century
Ivory - 29 x 21.6 x 1.1cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : 2013 Musée du Louvre/ Thierry Ollivier


This ivory represents the Nativity on one side in a complex composition showing Jesus in the manger then being washed by two women ; on the other, the Crucifixion in a more sober presentation. Below these, a string of figures presents in a vivid manner the eighteen prophets who announced these two key events of the New Testament : each one is identified in Greek above the head while the inscriptions around the edges of the work offer comments on the two scenes, the first meaning (approximately) : "You the Word, how were you born of a pure young girl" and the other, "The words of the prophets accomplish themselves here...".
As Jannic Durand explains, this diptych stands out for its large size, the attempt at monumentality and the quality of the sculpture, as well as for its iconographic particularities. The curved shape of the upper part, recalling that of an altarpiece, the decor of the cross on the back and the inscriptions are all elements found in two other ditypchs, one residing in the Treasure of the cathedral in Chambéry and the other at the Warsaw Museum ; these three pieces might all proceed from the same workshop, produced by craftsmen from the Byzantine Empire which assimilated Occidental influences, prefiguring the Paleologian Renaissance.

Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, jeudi 7 mars 2013



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