This panel is one of a group of sixteen ivory plaques depicting a cycle of scenes from the Life of Christ. The original set, numbering forty or fifty, decorated a large piece of church furniture in Magdeburg Cathedral.
It shows a scene from St Luke's Gospel. Christ and a group of disciples meets the bier being carried out of the city gate. The weeping mother appears beneath the bier, with the heads of other mourners visible above. The background is pierced with a diaper of equal-armed crosses. Christ is disproportionally larger than the other figures with a severe, almost expressionless face. The panel would originally have been backed with gold or copper.
The Holy Roman emperor Otto I is depicted as a donor on one of the panels, thus they were probably commissioned between the time of his coronation in 962 and the establishment of the cathedral as the seat of the archbishopric in 968. The Lombardic carving style carving suggests the panels were made either in a workshop in Milan, or by a Lombardic artist working for the emperor. The original mounting was destroyed around the middle of the eleventh century, when plaques from the series were incorporated into the book cover of a manuscript codex in Magdeburg.
M. Brandt and A. Eggebrecht (eds.), Bernward von Hildesheim und das Zeitalter der Ottonen (Hildesheim and Mainz, 1993).
O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the ivory carving (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1909).
© Trustees of the British Museum