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Key facts
Full title Virgin and Child Triptych
Artist French or Italian
Date made 1325-50
Medium and support Ivory
Dimensions 20.7 × 12.7 × 1.4 cm
Acquisition credit On loan from The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Inventory number L1255
Location Room 51
Art route(s) A
Image copyright On loan from The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Collection Main Collection
Virgin and Child Triptych
French or Italian

The creamy, smooth surface of ivory, carved from elephant tusks, has been valued in Europe since the Roman period. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the French capital Paris was the most important centre for the production of ivory objects. These included small sculptures of the Virgin Mary and narrative scenes from the lives of Jesus and of Christian saints, made for private meditation as well as luxury items for personal use.

Parisian ivories were exported all over Europe. Because of their small scale, they were an important means of spreading the fashionable Northern French style, with its emphasis on grace and mannered decoration. You can see the impact that their elegant, elongated forms made on the work of many contemporary Italian painters, including Cimabue, Duccio and Bernardo Daddi.

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