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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
Plaque with Koimesis
10th century

4 3/16 x 3 7/16 x 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase funded by the
Laurence H. Favrot Bequest

Arts of Europe

During the Middle Ages, ivory carving played a principal role in religious art and often achieved the highest quality of workmanship found in any medium. From the 9th to the 12th centuries in both the East and the West, the imperial workshops of ivory carvers primarily produced individual objects and elaborate ensembles for church decoration and use.

This scene represents the death of the Virgin Mary, an event called the Koimesis by the Greek Orthodox Church. The tiny plaque displays the sophistication of ivory carving during the middle period of imperial Byzantium (330–1453). Its disciplined style results from an adherence to dominant court workshop traditions in 10th-century Constantinople. Evident in this plaque is the Byzantine tendency to enhance the spiritual value of a religious representation by abstracting the forms and establishing a hierarchy among the figures. It also demonstrates strong classical elements, the virtues of which Byzantine artists discovered anew during the late 9th century and with which the Byzantine style is infused. The plaque is from a portable diptych or possibly a triptych representing major Greek Orthodox feasts.