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Two Reliefs From the Passion of Christ: The Scourging & Mocking, Circa 1690-1710
carved ivory and gilt-wood frames
h 8.625 " w 6.25 " d 1.75 "
The ivory: 14cm x 10cm Overall 22cm x 16cm Depth 4.5cm
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The plaques are carved in high relief and are set in their original gilt-wood baldaquin canopy frames. They were most probably part of a larger group of ivory plaques depicting other scenes from the Passion (these are numbered in pencil on the reverse N 10, the scourging, and N 11, the mocking). The subject, while found throughout the history of ivory carving, is here treated in a highly unusual manner. There do not appear to be any analogous examples in the literature on ivory carvings, but we believe that they are Italian in origin, particularly because of the style of the frames and the treatment of the subject. The mockers and/or torturers are not depicted as Roman soldiers or Jews, as is usually the case, but rather figures possibly drawn from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. Their poses, actions and costumes, particularly in the mocking scene, have been inspired by this improvisational form of theatre, founded in Italy in the 16th century. None of the figures can be said to depict any particular Commedia character, but their actions are very similar to a print by Claude Gillot. Ivory carvings of German origin (Dresden) depicting figures from the Commedia dell’arte, but not within a religious context, are known and are discussed by Jutta Kappel.1
The parody intended by the carver by using actors to denegrate Christ is mitigated by the appearance in each scene of a barking dog, traditionally a symbol of companionship, faithfulness, and guardianship of human life. Each small dog sits back on their hind legs, looking up to Christ, vigilant, clearly disturbed at what they see and unable to help in any way, only to sound their bark. Their insertion into the scene serves as a metaphor, imparting the lesson to the viewer that although they are small and powerless, the dog recognizes and condemns the mistreatment of others. The carver accentuates the cruelty of the event by reminding us, with great subtlety, that even a dog can transcend the human condition in having greater compassion for his master than man has for his fellow man. In Christian symbolism, the dog guards the flock and therefore becomes an allegory of the priest.
1Jutta Kappel, Bauern Händler Komödianten und andere Leute, Published by Museum Huelsmann Bielefeld, 2002, p. 52-59.
Lynne Lawner, Harlequin on the Moon, Harry N. Abrams., Publishers, 1998.