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Key to the Brescia Casket

The Key to the Brescia Casket

Typology and the Early Christian Imagination

Catherine Brown Tkacz

This rigorously interdisciplinary study solves the centuries-long puzzle of the iconographic program of the Brescia Casket and demonstrates the importance of typology in Early Christian art.

The elusive rationale for the Brescia Casket, an ivory reliquary carved in northern Italy circa 390, has long tantalized scholars. The key to its wealth of meaning is exegetical typology, the interpretation of Old Testament people and events as prefiguring the Messiah. Typology underlies the whole sophisticated program of the ivory box, which features innovations such as the distinctive Good Shepherd of John 10 on the front of the box, the wrapping of the program around the corners, and even possible visual puns based on St. Augustine’s discussions of typology. Notably, Susanna, the heroine of Daniel 13, is depicted on the Brescia Casket as a type of Christ, a role discussed in numerous texts by mainstream authors such as Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome.

Tkacz grounds the typological program of the Brescia Casket in fourth-century thought and suggests the real possibility that typology is important for the understanding of Early Christian art in general. An innovative and illustrated appendix presents the history of interpretation of each of the fifty-nine on the casket.

ISBN: 978-0-268-01231-1
280 pages
Publication Year: 2002

Catherine Brown Tkacz is a scholar of the christianized imagination—the ways in which Christian ideas and imagery are expressed in language, literature and art. She has published several articles in Traditio, Vigiliae Christianae, Studia Patristica, and Revue des etudes augustiniennes.

“Helpful to both the specialized scholar as well as someone new to the subject . . . the book reflects a growing acknowledgment among scholars that there existed a close affinity between theological ideas and artistic representation in the early Christian world.” —Religious Studies Review

“Art historians have, for the first time, an encyclopedic treatment of this reliquary, to which critics today assign pride of place among early Christian ivory carvings. In chapter one the reader is provided with descriptions and pictures of all the carved surfaces, and an ingenious appendix Table of Identifications repeats all thirty-three registers, the fifteen extant medallions, and all nine panels and locates each in its proper site on a sketch of the casket. The comprehensiveness and the design of this appendix make it more satisfactory for study than a visit to the Museo Civico in Brescia where the casket is displayed.” —The Heythrop Journal

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The Key to the Brescia Casket

Typology and the Early Christian Imagination

Catherine Brown Tkacz

The Key to the Brescia Casket: Typology and the Early Christian Imagination
Paper Edition

This rigorously interdisciplinary study solves the centuries-long puzzle of the iconographic program of the Brescia Casket and demonstrates the importance of typology in Early Christian art.

The elusive rationale for the Brescia Casket, an ivory reliquary carved in northern Italy circa 390, has long tantalized scholars. The key to its wealth of meaning is exegetical typology, the interpretation of Old Testament people and events as prefiguring the Messiah. Typology underlies the whole sophisticated program of the ivory box, which features innovations such as the distinctive Good Shepherd of John 10 on the front of the box, the wrapping of the program around the corners, and even possible visual puns based on St. Augustine’s discussions of typology. Notably, Susanna, the heroine of Daniel 13, is depicted on the Brescia Casket as a type of Christ, a role discussed in numerous texts by mainstream authors such as Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome.

Tkacz grounds the typological program of the Brescia Casket in fourth-century thought and suggests the real possibility that typology is important for the understanding of Early Christian art in general. An innovative and illustrated appendix presents the history of interpretation of each of the fifty-nine on the casket.

ISBN: 978-0-268-01231-1

280 pages

“Helpful to both the specialized scholar as well as someone new to the subject . . . the book reflects a growing acknowledgment among scholars that there existed a close affinity between theological ideas and artistic representation in the early Christian world.” —Religious Studies Review

“Art historians have, for the first time, an encyclopedic treatment of this reliquary, to which critics today assign pride of place among early Christian ivory carvings. In chapter one the reader is provided with descriptions and pictures of all the carved surfaces, and an ingenious appendix Table of Identifications repeats all thirty-three registers, the fifteen extant medallions, and all nine panels and locates each in its proper site on a sketch of the casket. The comprehensiveness and the design of this appendix make it more satisfactory for study than a visit to the Museo Civico in Brescia where the casket is displayed.” —The Heythrop Journal

Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity