The front surface has three registers with ‘each crowned by a cusped arcade with five hanging capitals and six recreated apertures’ which ‘means that the enter of each composition is aligns with a capital’. The first direct visual impression left on a beholder is that the diptych is a representation of an ordered chaos. It Is ordered because It Is systematically divided Into three registers on each wing with each register having six recreated apertures equidistant from each other and symmetric.
On the contrary, it seems chaotic because unlike some other passion diptychs, each individual registers are not bordered inside (or split according to the number of apertures) to explicitly show different scenes. Instead, in most registers in his diptych, different scenes are interposed which makes an interesting narrative and, comparatively, leads to a chaotic On a good way) display In an otherwise neatly bordered and systematic diptych.
This type of representation, In each composition, also portrays a lively sense of movement to the traditional scenes which are otherwise portrayed in an iconic style. This diptych is read left to right across the wings and from the top to the bottom without changing directions. Although it is of a ‘normal’ directional impulse, the implications of reading the scenes horizontally sakes It easier and provides a potential to understand and meditate on horizontal and vertical relationships between registers.
Interestingly, an absence of Interior dividers not only provides more space and therefore, more creatively but also leads to an increased scope to form thematic relationships between registers without confusion. The first register is a rather unusual start to a Passion diptych because most of them usually start with the ‘Entry Into Jerusalem’ or an event that Is directly related to the death of Christ. However, both, this diptych and the “Abbreviated Passion Diptych” egging with the Resurrection of Lazarus (fig. 1). Both the diptychs have Mary and Martha thanking Jesus for what he’s done.
In the Dormouse diptych, a disciple or onlooker can be seen scratching his head in bewilderment and amazed at the fact that Lazarus has resurrected. Lazarus is half out of the tomb that held him holding the cloak of Jesus, who is compassionately looking at him while Lazarus does look tired as If woken up from an unfinished sleep. This section of the first register stimulates trust and dependency because Jesus, although he’s Ralston someone from he dead, is calm but also compassionate which agrees to the fact that ‘He loved Him’ and shows His humanity.
The next scene in the first register is the ‘Entry to Jerusalem’ where a person can be seen laying down his cloak and the people ‘on the wall’, which denotes people in the city watch excitedly for the entry of their Savior. Interestingly, the scale of Jesus and his disciples, and the other half- the people and larger than the people hailing his entry. Noticeably, Jesus head is held high, Just as a king nobly receives the respect he is due while he also greets them and accepts their joyous praise.
However, this is a sharp contrast from the previous scene – The raising of Lazarus – which is relatively melancholy and calm, suddenly turning to erupting praise which provides an interesting twist in the prayer of the beholder. Continuing on, the next register shows the Washing of the Apostles’ Feet’ . At this instant, Jesus is probably talking to Simon Peter, as is recorded in the gospel of account of John in which he is initially taken aback and refused to have his foot washed by Jesus but when Jesus insists and gives his reasoning, Peter agrees to it.
The mood is very ember and to a degree, awkward, as Jesus is doing something very unexpected of a leader. Incidentally, In stark contrast to the ‘Entry to Jerusalem’, where Jesus is being ushered and hailed as King with his head held high, in this scene, Jesus’ head is tilted down, and he is missing his outer garment – his cloak. In this scene, Jesus is kneeling down before his disciples, humbling himself before them and washing the dirt of their feet. To the beholder, this reminds him of the nature of Jesus, that he being God and master of the apostles, humbled himself to wash their feet.
A viewer s reminded and encouraged in the fact that if Jesus showed that the way of the kingdom is serving, then he too, must serve willingly. Furthermore, unlike the previous scene where Jesus is a ‘head above’ the disciples, in this register, he is placed at the same height showing that he humbled himself to their level. The third register is the event of ‘The Last Supper’ which consists of two scenes : Firstly, Jesus foretelling that one of them would betray him. He is seen dipping the bread at the same time as Judas, his betrayer (Matthew 26:23). Secondly, Peter is seen leaning on
Jesus’ breast as He breaks it to him that he will be betrayed and in the process, be denied by Him three times. Here, ten of the disciples seem a bit merry as they enjoy a feast with Jesus. However, Judas looks at Jesus with a mix of guilt and deceitfulness while Peter has his eyes closed, visibly sad that his master is going to be betrayed and that he would deny him three times in the process. The diptych continues onto the ‘Agony in the Garden’ at Statement where Jesus is praying, fearing for the punishment that he will bear, while his disciples sleep.
The three disciples in front’ of him are Peter, James and John while the other eight are ‘behind’ Jesus. The trees are curved in order to use the available space and is shown in a smaller scale to the disciples and Jesus creating a background that helps imply that they are in a garden. This scene shows the humanity of Jesus; where he is looking up towards heaven, with his arms raised, wide awake, asking for help as he is visibly troubled. Interestingly, there is a contrast between this register and the previous one.
Unlike the last supper, he disciples here are asleep and hence, to a degree, the mood is a bit dull and dreary. However, for Jesus, it is a tense night as He gains his strength from the Father. This encourages a beholder to find His strength in God through prayer when from all around support is waning, lacking or even absent. Onwards, the next register, ‘The Betrayal of Jesus’ shows three scenes simultaneously with Jesus presented only one time, making an interesting Juxtaposition of various scenes in one register.
In the background are two soldiers who are of a slightly lower height which ivies a more realistic sense of scale to the whole composition. Peter looks on with and Jesus has rebuked him for that act. The disciple next to Simon Peter is seen as restraining him to attack anyone else. Furthermore, the betrayer, Judas Chariot leans in to kiss Jesus while Jesus tilts his head downwards to receive the kiss. Jesus looks at him disappointedly while Judas looks with guilt and remorse as he slowly comes to the fact that he is betraying his master and God.
At the same instance, Jesus is healing Mulches who is shown writhing in pain. Onto the next scene in the same sister, Judas Chariot, overcome by his guilt hangs himself on a tree, naked, with his intestines and innards coming out. There is a burst of activity in this diptych as there are a lot of intense activities occurring simultaneously. If the previous register was tense because Jesus was apprehensive of the wrath He would take on, the scenes in this register are even tenser with almost a deceptive calmness that Jesus shows in every composition.
Incidentally, this diptych has no scene representing the flagellation of Christ or the trying of Him at a counsel and goes straight ahead, after he betrayal, to the crucifixion of Jesus. In the register containing the crucifixion, two major scenes occur simultaneously. Firstly, Mary is swooning and is supported by women who have come to see of her son. Secondly, a dead Jesus, flanked by Longings, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side, with his spear leaning on his far shoulder, on the left side, who is convinced of his deity and on the right, Stephan, who offered Jesus sour wine to abate his pain.
The soldiers flanking him and the women on the left mourn his death radiating sorrow. Moreover, this composition, in n observer, invokes a feeling of gratitude on meditation. Gratitude, because of the humanity of Jesus, who suffered a horrendous death and took on God’s wrath so that all could be redeemed by God through Christ. It also stimulates praise and love when one imagines the degree of humility that Jesus underwent to do what He did on the cross. Interestingly, comparing the bottom two registers, Judas is similar to Jesus hanging on a cross as both have their heads slumped to the left.
However, Chrism’s torso is bare but his abdomen and loins are covered while Judas’ torso is covered while his abdomen and loins are bare. Additionally, Judas’ hands are turned out which is similar to the orientation of the hands of Mary, who is despairing, too. Similarly, there exists another diptych, the ‘Passion diptych in three registers (135()-75)’ which in form is different from the Dormouse diptych as it has five apertures. Apart from the form of the diptych, this passion diptych varies a lot in terms of expression from the Dormouse diptych. The Dormouse diptych contains a range of emotions and passions.
From somberness to Joyous rapture to an awkward tuition – it has it all. However, the ‘Passion diptych in three registers’ mostly continues along without much changes in individual expressions of horror or happiness, of Joy or sadness. Additionally, unlike the Dormouse diptych, this diptych doesn’t have the cruciform halo and doesn’t contain scenes such as the ‘Raising of Lazarus’ and ‘The Hanging of Judas’. Furthermore, this diptych also lacks difference in scale and precise proportions that distinguishes itself between a good and great diptych.
For example, in the last register, the swooning Virgin is seen as tender, restfully falling into the hands of the women supporting her. However, in this Passion diptych, it seems like she’s standing with her eyes closed. In conclusion, the Dormouse diptych is a wonderful piece of gothic ivory that is unrivalled not only each composition provides and produces and how the visual complexity of this diptych make the study of its images rewarding. ‘ Bibliography Lowdown, John, and John Cherry, Medieval Ivories and Works of Art: The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. British Columbia: Skillet Publishing, 2008
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