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The Salerno Ivories – re-photographed

The Ivory’s Materiality

The Salerno ivories were probably carved from the tusks of a large West African elephant (Loxodonta africana) measuring 2,5 m in length and 15 cm in diameter. This can be calculated from the size of some plates depicting scenes from the Old Testament (e.g. “The Feeding of the Five Thousand / The Last Supper”) that are over 14 cm wide. The latter plate can be located even more precisely. The backside shows a narrowing vertical stripe indicating the top of the hollow or the nerve-canal. Thus, it can be assumed that this plate was taken from a central part of the tusk.
Other plates such as the “Binding of Isaac“ are strongly curved with a roughly polished backside revealing the typically wood-like and grained ivory structure that can be skimmed in strands.
In an enlargement, traces of processing with saws, knives, shapers and drills, gravers, and files become visible. This is also true for the fineness of the engraved and polished surface and the age-related cracks, as well as the yellowing and brittleness of the material that is extremely sensitive to humidity and temperature fluctuation. A cross-section of the ivory shows intersecting lines in a net-like structure, as can be seen here on the upper edge of the “Noli me tangere” plate. The so-called Schreger or Retzius lines are included into the decorative elements of the carvings and so, the carvings in a way imitate the natural structure of ivory self-reflexively.
Furthermore, ivory was combined with other materials such as glass or metal. In an enlargement, dark-blue pupils can be seen.


“The Feeding of the Multitude / The Multiplication of the Loaves / Last Supper / Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles“, 24,1 x 14,1-14,6 cm, KHI inv. no. 613896

Backside of plate “The Feeding of the Multitude / Last Supper / Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles“, 24,1 x 14,1-14,6 cm, KHI inv. no. 613901

“Noah Leaves the Ark/ The Sacrifice of Noah“, 10,3-10,5 x 21,8 cm, KHI inv. no. 613781

“Noah Leaves the Ark/ The Sacrifice of Noah“, 10,3-10,5 x 21,8 cm, KHI inv. no. 613782

Backside of plate “Noah Leaves the Ark/ The Sacrifice of Noah“, 10,3-10,5 x 21,8 cm, KHI inv. no. 613785

“The Dove Returns to the Ark“, detail: Noah receives the olive branch, 9,8-9,9 x 22,2 cm, KHI inv. no. 613775

“The Journey to Bethlehem“, detail: Donkey, 24,2 x 12,8 cm, KHI inv. no. 613845

“The Magi before Herod“, detail, KHI inv. no. 613835

Upper edge of the “Noli me tangere” plate with Retzius lines, 24,2 x 11,7-11,9 cm, KHI inv. no. 613923

“The Sacrifice of Isaac“, detail, 10,2-10,3 x 24,2 cm, KHI inv. no. 613804

“Doubting Thomas“, detail: Thomas touching the wounded side of Christ, KHI inv. no. 613921

“The Adoration of the Magi“, detail: Christ child, 23,5 x 13,2-13,5 cm, KHI inv. no. 613841




© KHI in Florence | 06.08.2020 12:48:56