Casket, c. 420-430 AD
Ivory
75 (height) x 98 (width) mm
Rome, Italy

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These four carved ivory plaques, interpreting scenes from the Passion of Christ, were originally mounted to the side of a small casket, used as a reliquary or vessel for consecrated bread. Created during the Late Roman Empire, after Christianity had become the dominant religion, these plaques offer one of the earliest known depictions of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ from the Gospels. The narrative begins in the first panel where Pilate washes his hands, Christ carries the cross, and Peter denies he is a disciple of Christ. The second panel portrays both the hanging of Judas and the crucifixion of Christ, in striking juxtaposition. A nimbus, or circular halo, is incised behind Jesus’ head, and the inscription REX IUD, meaning ‘King of the Jews,’ is visible above him. The next panel illustrates the two Marys flanking the empty tomb of Jesus. The final panel represents the resurrection of Jesus and the Apostle Thomas probing Christ’s wound in disbelief. Stylistically the Casket panels combine the figural stockiness and dimensionality of classical Roman relief sculpture with the more attenuated forms representative of Byzantine art.

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