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Triptych with the Virgin Hodegetria and Saints

Middle Byzantine
late 10th century
15.8 cm x 22.4 cm (6 1/4 in. x 8 13/16 in.)

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Central panel, obverse
Central panel, obverse
Additional Image Central panel, reverse
Central panel, reverse
Additional Image Left wing, obverse
Left wing, obverse
Additional Image Left wing, reverse
Left wing, reverse
Additional Image Reverse
Additional Image Right wing, obverse
Right wing, obverse
Additional Image Right wing, reverse
Right wing, reverse

The small size of this triptych indicates that it was used for private, rather than public prayer. When closed, each wing displays a tall, slender cross placed on top of three steps. Opened, the triptych reveals a half-length image of the Mother of God holding the Christ Child--the Hodegetria type--set below an openwork baldachin supported on spirally-fluted columns; on each wing there are three bust-length figures, turned towards the central group: angels appear above two saints, with the compartments divided from each other by a bead-and-reel frame.

The Hodegetria, the image of the Mother of God holding the Christ Child on her left arm and pointing toward him with her right, was by far the most widespread image of these figures in Byzantine art. Though there are many variations, they are believed to reflect a famous icon housed in the Constantinopolitan Hodegon Monastery, from which the name of the type derives. The significance of the Hodegon icon was that it had reputedly been executed by the evangelist St. Luke, a tradition, however documented no earlier than the late twelfth century.

Unlike many ivory icons, which have the names of the figures incised, this triptych has no identifying inscriptions. The figure on the wings who can be recognized with certainty is St. John Prodromos (the Forerunner; or the Baptist), located in the center to the right. His long hair and beard, the fringed cloak closed over his chest, and the gesture of entreaty, known from the many representations of the Deesis, are details that identify him. The other figures do not have such details of dress or attribute to identify them; however, they were identified in Goldschmidt-Weitzmann (cf. Bibliography): to the left, St. John the Evangelist, and the saints in the lowest compartments (martyr-saints, holding up crosses in front of their chests), St. Theodore to the right, and St. George to the left.

The artisan lavished considerable effort on the carving of the draperies. Compared to more classicizing carving, seen, for example, on the three-figure ivory of a standing Hodegetria, St. John Prodromos, and St. Basil (BZ.1939.8), the copious folds here tend to create linear surface patterns instead of convincing three-dimensional figures. Their shapes are, moreover, formulaic and are observable on a series of half-length Hodegetria ivories with almost identical compositions (cf. Bibliography: A. Cutler, The Hand of the Master, 174-84).
J. Hanson

S. Bickell, "Mittelalterlicher Buchdeckel in der Landesbibliothek zu Kassel," Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst 3 (1890): 118-19.

A. Goldschmidt and K. Weitzmann, Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.-XIII. Jahrhunderts, Vol. 2, Reliefs (Berlin, 1934, 2nd ed. 1979), 62, no. 131, pl. 48.

P. Williamson and S. De Pury, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Medieval Sculpture and Works of Art (London, 1987), 110, 113, fig. 2.

A. Cutler, The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th Centuries), (Princeton, 1994), 53, 64, 85, 122, 165, 181, fig. 59.

An Exhibition of Medieval, Renaissance and Islamic Works of Art, exh. cat., Newhouse Galleries, New York, 9th November-22nd November 1995 (London, 1995), 6, 7.

R. Baumstark, ed., Rom und Byzanz: Schatzkammerstucke aus bayerischen Sammlungen, exh. cat., Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Munich, 1998), 56, fig. 17.

B. V. Pentcheva, Icons and Power: the Mother of God in Byzantium (University Park, Pa., 2006), 90 n. 139.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 146, pl. p. 147.

Exhibition History
New York, Newhouse Galleries, "An Exhibition of Medieval, Renaissance, & Islamic Works of Art," Nov. 1995.

Acquisition History
Collection of Prince Ludwig (1791-1870), 19th century.

Collection of Graf Oettingen-Wallerstein, Maihingen, until 1948.

Collection of Donauworth, Schloss Harburg (descended from Prince Ludwig).

Purchased from Trinity Fine Arts, Ltd., London (dealer) by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., 1996.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.