The painting and ivory diptych in this room were designed to deepen faith through private study and contemplation. Their scale and intricacy encouraged the beholder to meditate upon Christ’s suffering.

How can we relate to these works of art today? The atmosphere of this small room encourages us to engage more intimately with these works, and in turn to consider their original function as objects of devotion. Like Adam Chodzko’s Secretors, these tangible objects are indicators of a world beyond our own.

Christ crowned with Thorns
Follower of Dieric Bouts, Christ Crowned with Thorns, c. 1475, Oil on panel, 32.3 x 23.8 cm, The Courtauld Collection


This image, Christ Crowned with Thorns, from the Circle of Bouts represents the sixth station of the cross (the representation of Christ’s final hours). Both the subject and size of this work are indicative of the viewer’s devotion. In part, the intensity of this image results from our reaction to the blood and tears emanating from the figure, which is further emphasized by Christ’s penetrating gaze, engaging the empathy of the viewer.

Bouts was a successful Netherlandish painter of the fifteenth century. He had an extensive workshop and many followers who replicated this popular type of devotional imagery. This image was often joined with the Mater Dolorosa to form a diptych. The size of these images made them portable and accessible for private devotion.

Vierge Glorieuse and Crucifixion diptych
Workshop of Visages Characterises Ivory diptych with the Virgin and Child with Angels and The Crucifixion, 15th century, Carved ivory and ebony, 18.1 x 22.2 cm (open), The Courtauld Gallery


The intricately carved scenes of Mary rejoicing in the Christ child’s birth and lamenting his death would have helped the often illiterate medieval viewer to understand these stories through sight and touch.

This ivory was principally a devotional object which would have originally been held in the palm of one’s hand like a prayer book. However, its power lay in the visual, not textual, description of Christ’s bodily anguish and the Virgin’s compassion.

When it is partly closed, the Virgin looks both at the Christ child and into the dead Christ’s face, as if to foresee his later suffering