Having said all that, it is not clear exactly who commissioned the Salerno ivories or why. There are, however, enough specific local references in the scenes to make plausible the idea that the work was, indeed, done by local artisans (probably from Amalfi) exclusively for the Salerno cathedral. The work displays three, and possibly four, different decorative styles —two for the Old Testament (OT) plaques and two (possibly three) for the New Testament (NT). As noted, they are stylistically diverse; they are also reminiscent of, and have been compared to, other similar works, such as a series of plaques in northern Italy, the Grado ivories.(*2) The Salerno Ivories have also been compared to an extant Montecassino ivory panel from that period, now in a Berlin museum.(*3)
The Biblical episodes chosen for the series were probably not intended to be a "Bible for the Poor" as some thought for years. That is, the plaques were most likely not teaching or explanatory tools such as, say, the Exultet Rolls. Also, they were not meant to be viewed in a museum-like display; they may have been set up at various points on the cathedral grounds (or even fixed in place at various points) and probably served some ornamental or liturgical function. The plaques are likely to have been commissioned by a patron or patrons with a high level of culture and perhaps even from within the church. Evidence for this seems to be the fact that none of the figures, not even the most humble, is ever shown as crude or rough; they are all finely carved with extreme precision.
As noted above, some of the plaques are no longer in Salerno but are on display at various museums in the world: for example, the plaque representing the story of Cain and Abel is in the Louvre in Paris, and the Creation of the Animals was cut in half with Budapest and New York each getting a part! (That's right; someone cut it in half!) To the extent that the series is not complete, it is not clear how various pieces went missing. Some outright theft is possible. The piece in Budapest even has written in Hungarian on the back, "Acquired from an antique dealer in Naples, but originally from Salerno, in 1823." Some of them may have been legitimately sold, but there is no documentation of that.
The figures were carved directly into the ivory plaques; there are still visible traces of rough drafts sketched on the backs. Engraving was done after the ivory had been soaked in a vinegar bath to soften the material and make it more workable. Add to this the Carolingian technique of fusing black glass paste directly onto the ivory to decorate the eyes of the figures. The plaques are relatively uniform in size, each somewhat smaller than a standard sheet of writing paper.
The cycle of plaques starts with scenes of the OT: the Separation of Light and Darkness, the Creation of Angles, the Creation of Adam and Eve, Original Sin, the Flood, then through the episodes of the Tower of Babel and the stories of Abraham and Moses and concluding with the Deliverance of the Tablets of the Law —the Ten Commandments. The New Testament plaques are oriented somewhat differently than those of the Old Testament. The OT plagues generally have two side-by-side scenes to a plaque; the NT plaques are displayed vertically with two scenes to a plaque, one above the other. That may mean that the NT scenes were meant to be displayed differently and perhaps had a different liturgical function. There are also definite visual references to Salerno and even minarets and mosques as well as Christian churches. The first NT plaque must surely have been of the Annunciation, but it has gone missing. The others are present and well preserved: the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt [both shown in the image, above. Photo credit: Wikipedia user Giaros], the Slaughter of the Innocents, then the first appearance of Christ as an adult (His baptism, the Marriage at Cana) etc.etc., then the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, Doubting Thomas, and the Ascension.
The Salerno Ivories have survived almost 1000 years intact in excellent condition; that is a wonder given the violence that has infected the area over the centuries. I have read that the ivories were "in the cathedral until WWII." At that point, I assume they were hidden somewhere for safe-keeping until rapacious Nazi art thieves had left (late 1943). They were always looking for stuff to steal (see Raiders of the Lost Shroud.) In any event, the ivories are safe and you may see them. As I say, a wonder.