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Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints

Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints

Culture: Italian
Date: late 14th century–early 15th century
Medium: Bone, wood, horn, and polychrome
13 1/8 x 10 1/8 inches (33.3 x 25.7 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: The Brummer Collection
Label Text:This portable household altarpiece can be attributed to the important workshop of ivory carvers founded by Baldassare degli Embriachi in Venice shortly before 1400. Until the studio was disbanded in c. 1433, it mass-produced hundreds of portable devotional and secular objects such as altarpieces, chests, boxes, mirror backs, and combs. In most cases, figures were carved from convex strips of bone instead of the more costly ivory. The vertical compositions conform to the bone’s narrow rectangular field, as in this carving with the Virgin and Child (center), flanked by four male saints. St. James the Greater, with a pilgrim’s cloak and staff, and a youthful warrior saint, most likely St. Paul, join them on the central panel. St. James the Less, with book and staff, and St. Francis pointing to a stigmata wound, occupy the lateral wings.

This altarpiece displays characteristic Embriachi workshop details that help identify it, such as the pedestal-like ledges beneath the figures and the cityscape in the background. Portions of the triptych originally would have been painted, and some traces of polychrome can still be seen in the bone’s deep grooves. Like other Embriachi altarpieces, this one would have been opened only for private prayers. In the closed position, two angel-like figures with halos and wings are visible on the reverse.

Provenance: Ernest [1890-1964] or Joseph [1883-1947] Brummer; by inheritance to Ernest's wife, Ella Brummer; purchased 1966 by Duke University Museum of Art, now Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Object number: 1966.29.1