Indices in Ivory: Inspiring Affective Piety with a Walrus Ivory Christ


The Crucified Christ (Figure 1), now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, captures both Christ’s serene acceptance of death and the graphic reality of mortality in a way rarely seen in medieval ivory carvings. Crafted by a Parisian artisan working in either England or Cologne around 1300, the seven-inch-tall statue now stands devoid of its arms and the small crucifix to which it was originally attached.1 Christ is depicted with his head falling slightly forward, the smooth S-curve of his body emphasizing his youthful form and artfully crossed legs. Scant remains of gold leaf on Christ’s hair and beard encircle the figure’s face in a heavenly light, emphasizing Christ’s calm dignity  which  was  maintained  even  in  death.  Remnants  of red paint accentuate Christ’s side wound and trail downward, mimicking the appearance of a trickle of dried blood. What makes this piece notable, however, is not the style in which it was carved, but the medium itself—walrus ivory. I argue that  the  material  of  the  Crucified Christ,  as  manipulated  by  the  sculptor,  lends  itself  to  affective  contemplation,  shaping  the viewer’s devotional experience. By examining how sight, light, touch, and theology shaped a viewer’s perception of the work, I demonstrate how such pieces served to close the gap between the absent divine and the affective devotee.
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2022 Mia Hafer


Metrics Loading ...