EMBRIACHI, Baldassare degli
(active 1390-1409 in Florence and Venice)

Altarpiece

1390s
Ivory and ebony
Certosa, Pavia

This altarpiece was commissioned by Giangaleazzo Visconti. It was to stand on the high altar in close proximity to his tomb in the Certosa of Pavia. It follows a Burgundian precedent, Jean de Berry having ordered similar triptychs from the same artist for Champmol and Poissy in 1393. Ivory was a favourite medium among noble patrons, who appreciated its expense and luxury.

The Pavia triptych is extraordinarily large for a work in ivory, constructed of thousands of pieces of carved elephant tusk. The architectural frame contains fifty-four niches for saints. The panel at the left contains eighteen reliefs depicting stories from the life of the Virgin; the one on the right, an equal number from the life of Christ. In the large central panel appear scenes from the lives and legends of the Three Kings, a subject chosen by Giangaleazzo to recall the Milanese cult of the Magi and, by association, to emphasize his own princely patronage.