Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J.P. Morgan

ON THE COVER: The cross bearing the crucified Jesus “pierces the guts of Hades,” in the words at lower right in this tenth-century ivory plaque. Mary, mother of Jesus, and John, the closest of the apostles to Jesus, stand at left and at right, respectively, while three Roman soldiers, below Jesus, draw lots for his cloak.

The ivory depicts the scene from a sixth-century kontakion, or sung liturgical poem. In majestic imagery, Romanos the Melodist, the kontakion’s composer, describes the faithful as being ushered into Paradise thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. R.J. Schork profiles Romanos and his little-known art form in “Sung Sermons—Melodies, morals and biblical interpretations in Byzantium.”