Large mother of pearl icon of the Last Supper


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The present piece is a remarkable example of its type—a treasured souvenir from the Holy Land. The tradition of pilgrims and other visitors to the Levant acquiring souvenirs of their visit is a timeless one: during the early medieval period, when intrepid pilgrims traversed Europe and the Mediterranean in order to visit the sites most sacred to Christianity, travellers would return home with some memento of their arduous voyage, whether a purported relic, an icon, or some fragment of the landscape.

During the 18th and 19th Century, this tradition continued; the present piece is an example of one of the most popular forms of tourist keepsakes. Last Supper icons crafted from carved mother of pearl proved exceptionally popular, and the workshops that produced such pieces proliferated in the region, particularly in and around Jerusalem—the main destination for most tourists. These workshops were remarkable examples of cooperation among practitioners of various religions: Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike worked to craft pieces such as the present one. Indeed, workshops manufacturing such examples continue to operate to this day.

The icon, which is unusually large for its kind, represents the Last Supper: Christ and his twelve Apostles are seated behind a long dinner table—the composition almost certainly derived from da Vinci’s own rendition of the same scene. The room in which Christ and his Apostles dine is perspectivally defined: receding diagonals create a sense of space and depth. Indeed, there is true depth to the work: it is reminiscent of a shadow box, with the main figures in shallow relief against the architectural background.

The main scene is encompassed by a highly elaborate frame adorned with arabesques and other geometrical forms wrought from carved, engraved, and pierced mother of pearl and abalone shell. The crown depicts the Resurrection of Christ, while the corners and roundels display further scenes pertinent to Christianity. The entire mother-of-pearl and abalone composition is set onto a carved olive wood backing, the perfumed scent of which is truly remarkable. The piece is supported by a metal easel backing.


Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
Late 19th Century
Late 19th Century
Christian, Figurative Art, Religious
Abalone Shell, Mother-of-Pearl, Olive Wood
Brown, Cream, Multi-coloured


79 cm / 31.1 inches
74 cm / 29.1 inches
20 cm / 7.9 inches


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