Christian Ivories

Containment, manipulation, and the creation of meaning

Authored by: Niamh Bhalla

The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art

Print publication date:  May  2018
Online publication date:  May  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138857223
eBook ISBN: 9781315718835
Adobe ISBN:


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Ivories remain one of the most important categories of artistic production for studying the Early Christian period. Elephant dentine was used in a Christian context primarily for diptychs, furniture revetment, book covers and boxes. In this regard, Christian ivories did not differ greatly from their secular counterparts. In this chapter, careful considerations of the objects themselves—namely a leaf from a fifth-century diptych, a sixth-century pyxis and a fifth–seventh century set of book covers—show how their iconographical programs were planned in connection with the manner in which these objects were handled. Reconstructing how they were likely used and displayed reveals that their design appears to have been carefully calculated so that the meanings of their iconographies were constructed and activated through use, potentially also fusing a meaningful connection between their contents and their beautiful exteriors.

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