The V&A Museum has launched a fundraiser to try and save one of the most important English Romanesque ivory carvings in the UK from being sold overseas.

(c) V&A Museum

The 12th-century medieval walrus ivory carving shows the Deposition of Christ from the Cross is dated to about 1190-1200, and is likely to have been made in York, North Yorkshire, one of the UK’s most important medieval centres of artistic patronage, trade and religion.

The Deposition depicts the moment in the story of the Passion of Christ in which Jesus’s body is lifted down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea, and is considered to be one of the finest and most important examples of English Romanesque ivory carving to survive today.

The Deposition offers a glimpse into the art and craftsmanship of England during the Middle Ages, having survived the widespread destruction of religious art and imagery during the English Reformation of the 16th-century.

The carving, which was previously on long-term loan to the V&A from 1982 to 2022, was put up for sale last year, but a temporary export bar was placed on it by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to give museums time to buy it for the nation.

The V&A must fundraise for the entire £2 million cost of the acquisition and having recently launched its fundraising campaign, is seeking donations to acquire the piece for its permanent collection, where it will return to public view.

(c) V&A Museum

On its own, the carving would be significant, but it’s actually part of a pair of ivory carvings, so the successful acquisition of the Deposition from the Cross by the V&A would allow for the sculpture to be re-united with the only known surviving piece of the same ensemble, a fragmentary ivory carving of Judas at the Last Supper, discovered in Wakefield during the 18th-century, which is currently in the V&A Collection.

At the V&A, the two pieces were exhibited side-by-side for decades.

Together, both carvings would have likely once formed part of a larger work showing scenes from the Passion of Christ, including the Crucifixion.

Dr. Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, said: “The Deposition from the Cross ivory is one of the most beautiful, entrancing and historically important items to have been on display at the V&A. It tells the story of humanism long before the Renaissance and speaks to an elemental part of English culture. It is vital that we return it to display, for free, for everyone, forever.”

The V&A will be seeking to raise funds through trusts, foundations, donors, patrons, V&A members and would also welcome support from members of the public.


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