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Plaque with the Incredulity of Thomas

Middle Byzantine
mid 10th century
11.43 cm x 8.89 cm (4 1/2 in. x 3 1/2 in.)

On view


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Thomas crouches gingerly as he approaches Christ, pointing to the holy wound, but not quite daring to touch it. According to the Gospel of John, Thomas had been absent for the first resurrection appearance. At this, the second appearance, Christ enters the room despite the prominent closed doors (described by the inscription, “The doors having been closed…”, John 20:26) and invites Thomas to examine the wound in his side that vouches for his identity. Similar compositions are known from manuscripts and mosaics, but what is remarkable in this version is that Christ does not pull at his tunic. Instead, the garment appears to divide under its own power, forming a circular frame, and presenting it for Thomas’ and the viewer’s inspection.

There are ivory plaques in the same style and of comparable dimensions in Berlin, London, and Houston depicting the Nativity, Raising of Lazarus, and Koimesis (Dormition of the Virgin) respectively. Together with the Thomas icon and eight others, these plaques might have been set into a large wooden frame comprising an icon of the twelve great liturgical feasts. In this cycle, the image of Thomas would have fallen between the Resurrection and the Pentecost, substituting for the more common Ascension, as it does, for example, in the mosaics of the monastery Church of Hosios Loukas near Delphi.

Certain elements, such as the swags draped between the door and the wall, seem to derive from miniatures in manuscripts, suggesting that the ivory carver relied on painted models. The handling of the figures’ draperies and the near-three-dimensional carving of the figures, on the other hand, attest to the artisan’s skill at turning painted motifs effectively into relief.
J. Hanson

F. Spitzer, La collection Spitzer: Antiquité--moyen-âge--renaissance (Paris, 1890), 40.

E. Bonnaffé and E. Molinier, Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosité antiques, du moyen-âge & de la renaissance, composant l'importante et précieuse Collection Spitzer, dont la vente publique aura lieu à Paris ... du ... 17 avril au ... 16 juin, 1893 (Paris, 1893), no. 68, pl. 3.

W. Josephi, Die Werke plastischer Kunst (Nüremberg, 1910), no. 618, pl. 40.

Exposition internationale d'art Byzantin, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, 28 May-9 July, 1931, (Paris, 1931), 77, no. 103.

A. Goldschmidt and K. Weitzmann, Reliefs (Berlin, 1934, 2nd ed. 1979), 28, 29, no. 15, pl. 4, fig. 9.

Sammlung Spitzer (Luzern, 1939).

Arts of the Middle Ages; a Loan Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, February 17 to March 24, 1940, (Boston, 1940), 40, no. 116.

Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 78, no. 158, pl. p. 86.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 107, no. 236, pl. p. 119.

Byzantine Art, an European Art, exhibition catalogue, Zappeion Exhibition Hall, (Athens, 1964), 162, 163, no. 59.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 80, no. 281, pl. 281.

K. Weitzmann, "Ivory Sculpture of the Macedonian Renaissance," in Kolloquium über Spätantike und Frühmittelalterliche Skulptur (1970, Heidelberg) Vortragstexte ed. V. Milojcioc (Mainz am Rhein, 1971), esp. 1-4, pl. 1.1, 1.4, fig. 1.

———, Ivories and Steatites (Washington, D.C., 1972), 43-48, no. 21, pl. 22, 23, colorpl. 4.

C. Mango, "The Byzantine Collection," Apollo 119 (1984): 21-29, fig. 14.

A. Cutler, The Craft of Ivory: Sources, Techniques, and Uses in the Mediterranean World, A.D. 200-1400, Publications / Dumbarton Oaks, Byzantine Collection, 8 (Washington, D.C., 1985), 5, fig. 7, 49.

———, The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th Centuries) (Princeton, N.J., 1994), 52, 131, 198, 230, fig. 57, 58.

H. C. Evans and W. D. Wixom, The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 11-July 6, 1997, (New York, 1997), 148-150, no. 94C, colorpl. p. 149.

C. L. Connor, The Color of Ivory: Polychromy on Byzantine Ivories, (Princeton, 1998), 85, no. 51.

G. Bernardi, "Gli avori “bizantini” della Collezione del Museo Lázaro Galdiano di Madrid," Ocnus: quaderni della Scuola di specializzazione in archeologia 22 (2014): 109-25, esp. 122, fig. 37.

Exhibition History
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, "Exposition d'art byzantin," May 28 - July 9, 1931.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, "Arts of the Middle Ages," Feb. 17 - March 24, 1940.

Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, "A Selection of Ivories, Bronzes, Metalwork and Other Objects from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Nov. 15 - Dec. 31, 1945.

Athens, Zappeion Exhibition Hall, "Byzantine Art and European Art, Ninth Exhibition held under the Auspices of the Council of Europe," April 1 - June 15, 1964.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, "The Craft of Ivory," Oct. 22, 1985 - Jan. 06, 1986.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843 - 1261," March 11 - July 6, 1997.

Acquisition History
Collection of Frederic Spitzer (1850-1890), Paris.

Germanisches Museum, Nuremberg (No. K. P. 2267).

Purchased from M. & R. Stora (dealer), New York, by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, March 1937.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C., March 1937-November 1940.

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