The Last Judgement
Constantinople, 11th century
Ivory, 15.1 x 21.4 cm
This is a Byzantine panel from Constantinople, originating from the 11th century. This type of Last Judgement, with the empty throne at its centre symbolising Christ as Judge is typically Byzantine. The scene resembles the same subject depicted in mosaic on the west wall of Torcello Cathedral, of about 1100. The mosaic was probably based on a model such as this ivory.
The iconography and the style of this relief represent the heavy influence of the Byzantine originals in the West and in particular in Venice.
Above, in the centre, Christ is seated on a globe between the Virgin and St John the Baptist (the Deesis); they take their place as intercessors , at the Last Judgement, interceding to save the repentant sinners, while the twelve apostles besides them are assessors, helping the Judge to decide the fate of the souls of the dead. At the bottom , to the right of the centre, an angel blows a horn, the signal for the resurrection of the dead. The left of the central zone shows two groups of the Blessed and below various saints are led into Paradise, already occupied by the penitent thief (with his cross), the Virgin, and Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom. A river of fire descending from below Christ's feet, between two cherubim, leads to Hell on the right, where an angel ushers the Damned towards Satan on his throne of serpents. The figure in Satan's lap may be the rich man (as a pendant to Lazarus in Paradise). The figures at the bottom right have been identified as the sinners gnawing their lips and tongues mentioned in the apocryphal Apocalypse, or 'the violent who walk naked in the darkness', and the skulls represent those who sinned with their eyes and by touch. The empty throne with the open book and the instruments of the Passion is the Byzantine 'Etimasia', symbolising Our Lord as Judge.
The Last Judgement (V&A)