Andrews Diptych

North Italy, about 450-460
Ivory; Each leaf, 30.5 x 9.8 cm 


Except for a break in the lower right corner of the front panel and a keyhole introduced into the rear plaque, the diptych is in excellent condition. In the recesses left for wax on the inside of the plaques, two standing saints, now almost totally faded, were painted at a later date, probably between the ninth and twelfth centuries. 
Both leaves are framed by a border of egg-and-dart decoration and divided into nearly square fields by bands of acanthus motif. Each field contains one of Christ's miracles: on the front panel, the Raising of Lazarus, the Miracle of Cana, and the healing of the leper; on the back are the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, the healing of the blind man, and the healing of the paralytic. In these scenes, Christ is accompanied by witnesses and participants. Trees and various types of buildings provide a backdrop in all six fields.
The rather schematic handling of these architectural backgrounds led to view the diptych as a ninth-century copy of an Early Christian ivory. The minute, carefully rendered brickwork is especially common on fourth- to fifth-century ivories, however. The predominant opinion is that the diptych was produced in northern Italy toward the middle of the fifth century. The stocky figures with round heads set close to the shoulders and the heavy drapery folds connect the relief to other northern Italian ivories related to the Venatio plaque in Liverpool.
The iconography of each scene on the Andrews diptych has precedent in earlier sarcophagi, ivory plaques, and wood carving, but the diptych is unusual in its restriction to Christ's miracles. The healing of the leper is the only scene not depicted in Early Christian art; the Andrews diptych composition may have been based on the Old Testament scene of Job's suffering, which it closely resembles. The sequence of scenes is paralleled in the mosaics of S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, and must have been based on a similar cycle. Large diptychs decorated with Christian scenes were probably used from an early date during the Mass or perhaps to record the names of deceased parishioners, donors, or saints recited in the litany. 
The diptych was once in the Cathedral of Palermo. 

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016