The V&A Museum Aims to Raise $2.5 Million to Buy a Rare 12th-Century Ivory Carving

The piece, showing Joseph of Arimathea lifting Jesus down from the cross, is under a temporary export ban.

The Deposition from the Cross (ca. 1190-1200). Courtesy of the V&A.

London’s V&A museum is seeking donations to purchase a fine ivory carving that is likely to have been made in York, in North Yorkshire, and which the museum characterizes as “one of the finest and most important examples of English Romanesque ivory carving to survive today.” Dating from ca. 1190–1200, Deposition From the Cross shows Joseph of Arimathea lifting a dead Christ down from the cross. 

The museum is seeking donations in order to raise the entire purchase price of £2 million ($2.5 million). The department for culture placed a temporary export ban on the piece in November, and the institution aims to purchase the piece “for the nation.” Visitors may be familiar with the ivory, which was on display at the museum on long term loan from 1982 to 2022. It has also been on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in 1970, and the Hayward Gallery, in 1984.

“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,” said Tristram Hunt, the musuem’s director. “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 piece comes from an ensemble that includes a fragmentary carving of Judas at the Last Supper, also in the museum’s collection. The two pieces were shown together for decades at the V&A South Kensington. 

“This compelling work offers a rare, tantalizing glimpse of the sophistication and emotional power of art in England in the Middle Ages, a legacy that was almost entirely obliterated by the iconoclastic ravages of the Reformation,” said James Robinson, the museum’s acting director of collections. “It was made at a time when Church doctrine struggled to explain the mysteries of the Incarnation and, in this way, it is evidence of the pivotal role that the visual arts played in conveying devotional developments.”

Donations can be made through the V&A’s website or by contacting the development office at [email protected].

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