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BZ.1929.2, Crucifixion Plaque

BZ.1929.2, Crucifixion Plaque

Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum

Byzantine or Byzantine style, eleventh–twelfth century or nineteenth–twentieth century

Ivory, 20 cm x 10.5 cm x 1.3 cm (7 7/8 in. x 4 1/8 in. x 1/2 in.)

The Blisses acquired this ivory from Bacri Frères, Paris, in 1929.

Because the authenticity of the ivory was doubted, Kurt Weitzmann did not include it in Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 3, Ivories and Steatites (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 1972). That authenticity is also doubted in Susan A. Boyd and Gary Vikan, Questions of Authenticity among the Arts of Byzantium (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 1981), 24–25. The ivory is accepted as genuine by Anthony Cutler in The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium (9th–11th Centuries) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 1314.

The annotators of this correspondence are inclined to regard it as genuine. The ivory has a strong dark streak down its center, a feature that troubled those who doubted its authenticity, but this detail suggests a medieval origin. Cutler showed other Byzantine ivories with this trait, and something that offends modern taste is not likely to be chosen by a forger. Moreover, the streak is compositionally important and defines the central axis of the ivory and, thus, emphasizes the figure of Christ.