The Soissons Diptych
Place of origin:
ca. 1280-1300 (made)
Unknown (by the Master of the Soissons Diptych, production)
Materials and Techniques:
Painted and gilt ivory
Medieval and Renaissance, room 9, case 4
Public access description
The scenes from the Passion of Christ should be read across the two leaves of the diptych, from the bottom left and back again. They show: on the bottom tier, Judas receiving the 30 pieces of silver, the Betrayal of Christ, the Death of Judas, the Buffeting of Christ, Pilate washing his hands and the Flagellation; in the second row, Christ carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross, the Entombment, the Resurrection and the Harrowing of Hell; and on the top register, the Maries at the Sepulchre, Christ's appearance to Mary Magdalene, Christ's appearance to the Maries, the Doubting of Thomas, the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
The diptych is traditionally supposed to have come from the abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes at Soissons, France, although there is no firm documentary evidence to support this. It nevertheless gives its name to a number of related Gothic ivories of the late 13th century - the 'Soissons group' - which share the same densely populated, stacked bands of narrative scenes and elaborate High Gothic architectural forms. These diptychs, mostly showing scenes from the Passion of Christ, took this form of narrative sequence from the tympana over the doors of the great French cathedrals - as at Reims, Amiens, Notre-Dame in Paris and Rouen. Because the ivories were portable, they in turn probably acted as conduits for carrying the Gothic style and iconography from the Ile-de-France region to other parts of Europe.
Diptych representing scenes from the Passion: Judas receiving the thirty pieces of silver from the High Priest; the Betrayal; Judas hangs himself; Christ led before Pilate; Pilate washes his hands; the Flagellation; Christ carrying his cross; the Crucifixion; the Deposition; the Entombment; the Resurrection; the Harrowing of Hell; the Maries at the Sepulchre; Christ appearing to St. Mary Magdalene; the appearance to the three Maries; the Incredulity of St. Thomas; the Ascension; Pentecost. The background is coloured blue and the trees and crosses green, the hair and beards are gilded.
Height: 32.2 cm, Width: 23.4 cm each leaf, Depth: 1.9 cm, Weight: 1.08 kg
Object history note
The ivory is said to have come from the abbey of St Jean-des-Vignes at Soissons and thereby gives its name to a group of related ivories. This group consists mainly of comparatively large-scale ivory diptychs, and slightly smaller triptychs. They are usually divided into three horizontal bands with a rich architectural framework of cusped arches and pierced High Gothic gables.
Historical significance: The term Soisson group is slightly misleading because these diptychs and triptychs were produced in Paris and the 'group' includes pieces in different styles. The earliest, highest quality ivories of the group date from around 1250-70 among them the so-called 'Salting Leaf' (A546-1910), also in the V&A collection. The later ivories, including the present diptych, show slightly stiffer, more simplified elements but with a heavier treatment of drapery and a more complex architectural setting. Most pieces of this group are partly polychromed. The features of the present diptych are closely related to the 'Portail de la Calande' of the south transept of Rouen cathedral of about 1290-1305. It has been suggested that the approach to narrative and the placing of figures in comparable architectural settings of the portal in Rouen recommended itself to carvers of small-scale reliefs, especially in ivory and that these portable carvings of this type may have in turn occasionally provided the iconographic models for monumental sculpture further afield.
Bought for £308 in 1865.
Historical context note
Such objects seem to have been highly popular among both the clergy and the laity. The growing popularity of ivory diptychs during the second half of the thirteenth century can be seen as a response to the emphasis on personal worship.
Diptych, ivory, depicting the Passion of Christ, the Soissons Diptych, by the Master of the Soissons Diptych, French (Paris), end of the 13th century
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London : V&A, 1996, p. 78
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1865. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 31
Wiliamson, Paul. Gothic Sculpture, 1140-1300. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995, pl. 253
Williamson, Paul. ed. The Medieval Treasury: the Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986 pp. 188-189
Williamson, Paul. Gothic Sculpture 1140-1300 New Haven and London, 1995, pl. 253 and p. 168
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 10
Krohm, Hartmut and Kunde, Holger (eds). Der Naumburger Meister. Bildhauer und Architekt im Europa der Kathedralen. Berlin: Michael Imhof, 2011, vol. 2, pp. 1510-1511
L'art en Temps des Rois Maudits: Philippe le Bel et Ses Fils, 1285-1328 (Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais 17/03/1998-30/06/1998)