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The Liverpool Ivories

25 February 2010 by Ashley Cooke

photograph of a carved ivory panel

Last week I went to Germany accompanying one of the many national treasures that are held by World Museum. We are fortunate to hold one of the greatest collections of ancient ivory carvings in this country. The Liverpool ivories are internationally known and admired, and are frequently requested for loan by other museums. They have been key pieces in many international exhibitions bringing to life the fascinating history and art of the Byzantine empire.

In the 4th to 6th centuries AD ivory panels were carved with intricate images and hinged together to form a diptych, which could close together rather like a cigarette case. They were made for the elite to celebrate important events such as games marking the attainment of high office.

The Venatio Ivory is the left panel of a diptych with a carved representation of an elk fight (venatio is Latin for ‘hunt’). Wild beasts were hunted as a form of entertainment in amphitheatres such as the Colosseum in Rome. It will be great for people to see this object in context with so many similar artefacts and alongside a huge model of an amphitheatre. 

The detail of the carving is extraordinary and never fails to impress even fellow curators and conservators who are very familiar with ivory carvings. They always make staff in the Antiquities department feel proud! The panel is most likely to be from Rome and dates to the early 5th century AD. It was given to the museum in 1867 by Joseph Mayer who had bought it from the Fejérváry collection in 1855. Here’s even more information for those of you who relish details, it’s 294 mm in height and 120 mm in width.

Liverpool’s Venatio Ivory will be on display in Bonn from 26 February – 13 June 2010 at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalleder Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany).  The exhibition, Byzantium Splendour and Everyday Life, provides a comprehensive survey of the ‘Byzantine millenium’ which began with the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine the Great in 324 AD and ended with the conquest of the city by the Ottomans in 1453 AD. Click here to find out more.

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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.