ca. 1100

Height 14 cm



Like so many ivory reliefs, this panel was also once part of a book cover. It illustrates the connection between the Christian Holy Communion and Christ’s sacrifice of his own life. It shows Christ on the cross with his mother, Mary, and his favourite disciple, John. At the sides, two medallions bearing images of the mourning sun and moon in human form symbolize the sympathy of the heavens with Christ’s death. The mound of earth on which Mary and John stand delimits a second region. There the beam of the cross extends down to the lower edge of the relief, from which a tree stump with a chalice grows.

The chalice and tree stump are closely related to the cross in terms of symbolism: the latter refers to the paradisiacal tree of life (lignum vitae), from which, according to the legend, the cross was made. The former alludes to the Holy Communion, whose celebration recalls Christ’s death on the cross. In this context, the right hand of God above Christ’s head signals that the father accepts the death of his s n as a sacrifice of reconciliation for the sins of humanity—a central idea underlying the celebration of the Communion. The donors are seen kneeling next to the chalice: on the left a king, on the ight an abbot. The composition adheres to the scheme of the so-called dedication picture, which normally appeared on a page in a manuscript’s interior. The relief is thought to have been executed in Liège. Proposed dates range from 1100 to 1150, although the arguments for the earlier estimate are the more convincing. According to that interpretation, the king is Heinrich IV, who fled to Bishop Odbert in Liège when he was deposed in 1105. It has recently been suggested that the abbot is Theoderich, Odbert’s protégé, who headed the monastery at St Trond, which maintained close ties with the king and received support from Heinrich when securing the monastic rights.