Private collection, Germany
On the front side the coat of arms of the dukes of Braganza
An enchanting small diptych in the form of a book has its origins in the extreme west of Europe – in Portugal. Carved entirely out of ivory and painted, it bears the coat of arms of the House of Braganza on the front – a Portuguese ruling family that rose to become the most powerful noble dynasty in Portugal around 1460, after the royal family.
Due to its heraldic peculiarities the coat of arms can be dated to the third quarter of the 16th century. Bearing this in mind, the diptych is from the time of the sixth Duke of Breganza, João I (1543–1583), when the dukes of Braganza were loyal supporters of the Portuguese and Spanish monarchy. In return, the dukes were given considerable freedom so that the Duchy of Braganza was ruled like an autonomous entity within Portugal.
The opened miniature book depicts an intimate scene on the left-hand side with the Christ Child being read to by the Virgin Mary, on whose lap he is sitting, together with the Infant St. John the Baptist; the right-hand side shows a bust of Christ Crucified, covered in blood.
The male figure leaning over the little group and blessing it could be St. Joseph. This gesture, however, is iconographically unusual. It is equally possible that it is a depiction of Ignatius of Loyola (1491 Azpeitia – 1556 Rome) or another prominent member of the Society of Jesus.
The Portuguese priest Simão Rodrigues de Azevedo (c. 1510 Vouzela – 1579 Lisbon), for example, was a co-founder of the Jesuit Order. As the first provincial superior of the Society of Jesus in Portugal he played a crucial role in the Order’s expansion abroad. Another possibility is Constantino of Braganza (1528–1575) who was viceroy of India.
The teaching of the small Christ Child and the Infant St. John the Baptist also reflects one of the Order’s central obligations. In keeping with the Order’s vows, educating the young was essential; it was also believed that they could be easily moulded.