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medieval1200–1550 ivory carvings part 1 paul wi ll iamson and glyn davies

victoria  and albert  museum


VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM

MEDIEVAL IVORY CARVINGS

1200 –1550 PART I

PAUL WI LL IAMSON AND GLYN DAVIES Photography by James Stevenson and Christine Smith

V&A PU BLISHING


VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM

MEDIEVAL IVORY CARVINGS

1200 –1550 PART I

PAUL WI LL IAMSON AND GLYN DAVIES Photography by James Stevenson and Christine Smith

V&A PU BLISHING


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elephant ivory but also walrus ivory (morse), bone, and even mammoth ivory. The different raw materials have been identified wherever possible and are given at the beginning of each entry.

A Note on the Entries Every object in the catalogue has been measured personally by the authors. As was the case for the first volume (Williamson 2010) it was found that the dimensions of the pieces given in Margaret Longhurst’s 1929 catalogue were in many cases inaccurate, and this has led on several occasions to erroneous assumptions about their relationship with other carvings (see cat. no. 229 for an example). The first illustration of each piece is normally reproduced actual size. In those cases where the dimensions of the object exceed the page size, the images have been reduced: the percentage reduction is then indicated after the dimensions given in the catalogue entry (e.g. ‘reproduced 75%’, as in cat. no. 63). Bibliographical references are given in parentheses within the text and at the end of each catalogue entry, in abbreviated form. The full citations will be found in the bibliography at the back of Part II. In some cases comparable pieces are unpublished, but images of these ivories will in almost every instance be found on the Gothic Ivories website of the Courtauld Institute of Art, which should be used as a complementary tool to this catalogue (www.gothicivories.courtauld.ac.uk). Additional images of the V&A ivories, including different views and older photographs, can be accessed here, as well as on the Museum’s website. At the end of each entry a full bibliographic history is usually given, with the exception of a few of the most celebrated pieces, which have had a very large body of material dedicated to them, some of it of little value. In these cases, a ‘Principal Bibliography’ is provided, which includes all the most significant publications and especially those that cite earlier works in full. Many of the carvings have been lent to important exhibitions with scholarly catalogues and these publications are cited under the ‘Exhibited’ section at the end of the entry. The titles of these exhibitions are given in full in the second section of the bibliography.

CAT. NO. 32


21

elephant ivory but also walrus ivory (morse), bone, and even mammoth ivory. The different raw materials have been identified wherever possible and are given at the beginning of each entry.

A Note on the Entries Every object in the catalogue has been measured personally by the authors. As was the case for the first volume (Williamson 2010) it was found that the dimensions of the pieces given in Margaret Longhurst’s 1929 catalogue were in many cases inaccurate, and this has led on several occasions to erroneous assumptions about their relationship with other carvings (see cat. no. 229 for an example). The first illustration of each piece is normally reproduced actual size. In those cases where the dimensions of the object exceed the page size, the images have been reduced: the percentage reduction is then indicated after the dimensions given in the catalogue entry (e.g. ‘reproduced 75%’, as in cat. no. 63). Bibliographical references are given in parentheses within the text and at the end of each catalogue entry, in abbreviated form. The full citations will be found in the bibliography at the back of Part II. In some cases comparable pieces are unpublished, but images of these ivories will in almost every instance be found on the Gothic Ivories website of the Courtauld Institute of Art, which should be used as a complementary tool to this catalogue (www.gothicivories.courtauld.ac.uk). Additional images of the V&A ivories, including different views and older photographs, can be accessed here, as well as on the Museum’s website. At the end of each entry a full bibliographic history is usually given, with the exception of a few of the most celebrated pieces, which have had a very large body of material dedicated to them, some of it of little value. In these cases, a ‘Principal Bibliography’ is provided, which includes all the most significant publications and especially those that cite earlier works in full. Many of the carvings have been lent to important exhibitions with scholarly catalogues and these publications are cited under the ‘Exhibited’ section at the end of the entry. The titles of these exhibitions are given in full in the second section of the bibliography.

CAT. NO. 32


Figures of the Virgin and Child


Figures of the Virgin and Child


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[2] The Virgin and Child French (Paris or Amiens); about 1240 Elephant ivory; h. 26 cm, max. w. at base 7.4 cm Inv. no. 209–1867 In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 105); purchased from Webb in 1867 (£46). The Virgin stands supporting the Christ-Child on her left arm. The Child raises his right hand in benediction and holds an apple in his left. The Virgin wears a veil, and a mantle, drawn across her body but open at the waist and above, covers her long gown; the gown, gathered in as if belted, falls to the ground in overlapping folds and covers both her feet, which are visible through the cloth. She stands on an integrallycarved cylindrical base, on which are the remains of a gilded inscription with the angelic salutation (Luke, I, 28): AV E M A[r ia g rat ia ple]NA D OM IN VS TE(c v m) (Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee). The figure is in good condition, although the Virgin has lost her right hand and forearm. This part was either made separately originally and fitted to the main body of the arm with a dowel secured in place with two pins on each side, or it was broken off and repaired at a later date. She was presumably originally holding a fruit or flower. When shown at the 1862 exhibition, there were ‘remains of painting on the dresses and a metal crown on the Virgin’s head’ (London 1862, p. 9, no. 105; see fig. 1). The crown was later removed and is kept in store, and is very similar to that on an ivory Virgin in the British Museum (Dalton 1909, pl. LX X I V, cat. no. 330). The painted decoration and gilding is now confined to the hems of the Virgin’s mantle and the collar of her robe; and there are traces of gilded patterns on the bottom hem of her robe. In addition there is gold paint, presumably not original, on the vertical surface of the Virgin’s veil once below the metal crown; the latter was held in place by small metal pins, two of which remain, and there is a chip missing from the front of the Virgin’s head in this area, probably caused by the removal of the crown. The sculpture was examined under a binocular microscope in 1999 and the following observations were made: there are traces of red, green and brown glazes over gold on the borders of the Virgin’s mantle; the parts formerly gilded reveal that the gold was applied on a yellow ochre ground; a small amount of lapis lazuli was found at the back of the figure, inside a fold of drapery, indicating that the inside of the Virgin’s gown was originally blue; and a trace of vermilion was found on the inside of the Virgin’s mantle. The pattern on the hems consists of a repeating chevron within which is a cross with a dot on each side, and the Virgin has a single gold cross at the centre of her upper chest. The back of the Christ-Child’s

tunic is decorated with a series of delicate three-lobed plants of clover-like appearance. On the underside of the base is a circular hole of 3 cm depth (1 cm in diameter), presumably a dowel hole for securing the figure on a base plate rather than a cavity for a relic. The back of the Virgin is marked with the natural cloud-like cement of the ivory, lighter in colour than the surrounding material, both behind her left shoulder and at the bottom of her mantle; this indicates that the figure was cut from a section of the tusk close to the outer edge of the tusk, just below the husk.


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[2] The Virgin and Child French (Paris or Amiens); about 1240 Elephant ivory; h. 26 cm, max. w. at base 7.4 cm Inv. no. 209–1867 In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 105); purchased from Webb in 1867 (£46). The Virgin stands supporting the Christ-Child on her left arm. The Child raises his right hand in benediction and holds an apple in his left. The Virgin wears a veil, and a mantle, drawn across her body but open at the waist and above, covers her long gown; the gown, gathered in as if belted, falls to the ground in overlapping folds and covers both her feet, which are visible through the cloth. She stands on an integrallycarved cylindrical base, on which are the remains of a gilded inscription with the angelic salutation (Luke, I, 28): AV E M A[r ia g rat ia ple]NA D OM IN VS TE(c v m) (Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee). The figure is in good condition, although the Virgin has lost her right hand and forearm. This part was either made separately originally and fitted to the main body of the arm with a dowel secured in place with two pins on each side, or it was broken off and repaired at a later date. She was presumably originally holding a fruit or flower. When shown at the 1862 exhibition, there were ‘remains of painting on the dresses and a metal crown on the Virgin’s head’ (London 1862, p. 9, no. 105; see fig. 1). The crown was later removed and is kept in store, and is very similar to that on an ivory Virgin in the British Museum (Dalton 1909, pl. LX X I V, cat. no. 330). The painted decoration and gilding is now confined to the hems of the Virgin’s mantle and the collar of her robe; and there are traces of gilded patterns on the bottom hem of her robe. In addition there is gold paint, presumably not original, on the vertical surface of the Virgin’s veil once below the metal crown; the latter was held in place by small metal pins, two of which remain, and there is a chip missing from the front of the Virgin’s head in this area, probably caused by the removal of the crown. The sculpture was examined under a binocular microscope in 1999 and the following observations were made: there are traces of red, green and brown glazes over gold on the borders of the Virgin’s mantle; the parts formerly gilded reveal that the gold was applied on a yellow ochre ground; a small amount of lapis lazuli was found at the back of the figure, inside a fold of drapery, indicating that the inside of the Virgin’s gown was originally blue; and a trace of vermilion was found on the inside of the Virgin’s mantle. The pattern on the hems consists of a repeating chevron within which is a cross with a dot on each side, and the Virgin has a single gold cross at the centre of her upper chest. The back of the Christ-Child’s

tunic is decorated with a series of delicate three-lobed plants of clover-like appearance. On the underside of the base is a circular hole of 3 cm depth (1 cm in diameter), presumably a dowel hole for securing the figure on a base plate rather than a cavity for a relic. The back of the Virgin is marked with the natural cloud-like cement of the ivory, lighter in colour than the surrounding material, both behind her left shoulder and at the bottom of her mantle; this indicates that the figure was cut from a section of the tusk close to the outer edge of the tusk, just below the husk.


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[13] The Virgin and Child Probably French (Normandy); about 1340–50 Elephant ivory; h. 20 cm, w. at base 10 cm Inv. no. 201–1867 In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 103); purchased from Webb in 1867 (£46). The seated Virgin supports the Christ-Child on her left knee. The Child is shown semi-naked, wearing a loincloth – perhaps a prefiguration of his crucifixion – and holding a small bird by its wing in his left hand, also a reference to the Passion (see cat. no. 3). The Virgin sits on a backless throne with overhanging seat and the back of her mantle is fully carved. On the underside of the seat is a cylindrical cavity 2.7 cm in depth; Maskell suggested that this was for a peg to hold a separately-made bench of ivory (Maskell 1872, p. 76). However, the back of the throne is clearly visible and it is more likely that the cavity contained a relic; it was sealed with a recessed rectangular base plate (2.2 cm x 1.2 cm) held in place with four pins at the corners. The bottom of the base is pierced with two square-sectioned dowel holes for attachment to a separate pedestal, now missing. The ivory is slightly desiccated at the front (probably due to exposure to the sun) and there are numerous vertical cracks to the surface throughout. At the time of the 1862 exhibition and on acquisition the Virgin wore a metal or silver-gilt crown, presumably a post-medieval restoration and apparently removed by 1872 (now kept in store). The Virgin’s right hand and Christ’s right arm were also restored and these were removed later (fig. 1). The crown of the Virgin’s head was recessed to take a crown from the beginning, and the four pin holes were made to secure it. The Christ-Child has been broken away from the Virgin and refixed: a diagonal line above his left ankle, a crack though his toes on his right foot and two vertical fissures on the Virgin’s left forearm under the ChristChild indicate where the figure came away. The bird’s head has also been restored with a piece of lighter-coloured ivory, and a deep hole in the back of Christ’s head must once have held a halo (not original). A semi-circular section has been cut away at the lower left of the back of the throne (but curiously not at the right), the folds of the Virgin’s mantle extending over the moulded base. The present Virgin is closely related to others in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and one formerly in the collection of Mme Bernard Baudry in Rouen (Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. no. 190; Stratford 1983, pl. LX X X V IIb; Rouen 1932, p. 64, pl. X LV II; unfortunately only the V&A ivory retains the Christ-Child, the Hermitage example being a restoration and the others now missing).

All four share the highly distinctive method – almost a signature – of showing the Virgin’s mantle folded back over her knees, so that the edge forms a diagonal line running towards the feet of the Christ-Child; and all display the same treatment of the deep curved lines of the mantle drawn across the Virgin’s chest. A further Virgin and Child, the celebrated group now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York said by tradition to have been offered to Jean de Dormans when he was made Bishop of Lisieux in 1359, also has the diagonal fold of the mantle across the Virgin’s knees, but the mantle is here left open to reveal a fine belted gown beneath and it may be slightly earlier (see Detroit-Baltimore 1997, cat. no. 35). Although the New York, Paris and V&A Virgins have been attributed to England and dated anywhere between c.1300 and the third quarter of the fourteenth century, so far there have been no sufficiently close comparisons brought forward to confirm this unequivocally; nor is there any compelling documentary or historical evidence to link the figures with England. Rather, the Virgins of Paris, St Petersburg (formerly in the Basilewsky collection in Paris), Rouen and New York all have French provenances, and those of Rouen and New York may perhaps be linked with an origin in Normandy. It is also highly likely, although unrecorded, that John Webb purchased the present Virgin in Paris, where many of his other ivories were acquired. The likelihood of all five ivories having been made in England but ultimately ending up in France seems far-fetched, and the balance of probability suggests a


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[13] The Virgin and Child Probably French (Normandy); about 1340–50 Elephant ivory; h. 20 cm, w. at base 10 cm Inv. no. 201–1867 In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 103); purchased from Webb in 1867 (£46). The seated Virgin supports the Christ-Child on her left knee. The Child is shown semi-naked, wearing a loincloth – perhaps a prefiguration of his crucifixion – and holding a small bird by its wing in his left hand, also a reference to the Passion (see cat. no. 3). The Virgin sits on a backless throne with overhanging seat and the back of her mantle is fully carved. On the underside of the seat is a cylindrical cavity 2.7 cm in depth; Maskell suggested that this was for a peg to hold a separately-made bench of ivory (Maskell 1872, p. 76). However, the back of the throne is clearly visible and it is more likely that the cavity contained a relic; it was sealed with a recessed rectangular base plate (2.2 cm x 1.2 cm) held in place with four pins at the corners. The bottom of the base is pierced with two square-sectioned dowel holes for attachment to a separate pedestal, now missing. The ivory is slightly desiccated at the front (probably due to exposure to the sun) and there are numerous vertical cracks to the surface throughout. At the time of the 1862 exhibition and on acquisition the Virgin wore a metal or silver-gilt crown, presumably a post-medieval restoration and apparently removed by 1872 (now kept in store). The Virgin’s right hand and Christ’s right arm were also restored and these were removed later (fig. 1). The crown of the Virgin’s head was recessed to take a crown from the beginning, and the four pin holes were made to secure it. The Christ-Child has been broken away from the Virgin and refixed: a diagonal line above his left ankle, a crack though his toes on his right foot and two vertical fissures on the Virgin’s left forearm under the ChristChild indicate where the figure came away. The bird’s head has also been restored with a piece of lighter-coloured ivory, and a deep hole in the back of Christ’s head must once have held a halo (not original). A semi-circular section has been cut away at the lower left of the back of the throne (but curiously not at the right), the folds of the Virgin’s mantle extending over the moulded base. The present Virgin is closely related to others in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and one formerly in the collection of Mme Bernard Baudry in Rouen (Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. no. 190; Stratford 1983, pl. LX X X V IIb; Rouen 1932, p. 64, pl. X LV II; unfortunately only the V&A ivory retains the Christ-Child, the Hermitage example being a restoration and the others now missing).

All four share the highly distinctive method – almost a signature – of showing the Virgin’s mantle folded back over her knees, so that the edge forms a diagonal line running towards the feet of the Christ-Child; and all display the same treatment of the deep curved lines of the mantle drawn across the Virgin’s chest. A further Virgin and Child, the celebrated group now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York said by tradition to have been offered to Jean de Dormans when he was made Bishop of Lisieux in 1359, also has the diagonal fold of the mantle across the Virgin’s knees, but the mantle is here left open to reveal a fine belted gown beneath and it may be slightly earlier (see Detroit-Baltimore 1997, cat. no. 35). Although the New York, Paris and V&A Virgins have been attributed to England and dated anywhere between c.1300 and the third quarter of the fourteenth century, so far there have been no sufficiently close comparisons brought forward to confirm this unequivocally; nor is there any compelling documentary or historical evidence to link the figures with England. Rather, the Virgins of Paris, St Petersburg (formerly in the Basilewsky collection in Paris), Rouen and New York all have French provenances, and those of Rouen and New York may perhaps be linked with an origin in Normandy. It is also highly likely, although unrecorded, that John Webb purchased the present Virgin in Paris, where many of his other ivories were acquired. The likelihood of all five ivories having been made in England but ultimately ending up in France seems far-fetched, and the balance of probability suggests a


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[29] Saint Martin and the Beggar German (Cologne or Mainz); about 1320 Elephant ivory, gilded; h. 13.7 cm, w. at base 8.9 cm, max. d. at base 4.7 cm Inv. no. A.28–1939 Purchased through Mallett & Son at Sotheby’s, London, 29 June 1939 (lot 142, ill.; £440). In reply to an enquiry from Margaret Longhurst, Sotheby’s stated on 31 July: ‘As desired, we wrote to the late owner and asked if he knew the history of the little ivory group and he has replied as follows:– “As far as I can find out it was purchased by the people from whom I acquired it privately from a Repository Sale held in Norwich. I have found it was sold there with other sundry ivories of little importance. Apparently little was thought of it by the original owners. Beyond this I can find no family or other interesting history.” We are sorry that this information is so meagre.’ (Letter in V&A Sculpture Departmental Archive.) The young St Martin is shown on horseback, in the act of dividing his cloak and covering the beggar, who stands supporting himself with a crutch. The saint is bare-headed and dressed in a long robe, belted and with a scabbard hanging from his waist, his feet in spurs; the saddle, with girth, is shown below him. The beggar, wearing only loose trousers, looks up at St Martin and reaches out with his right arm to take the cloak. The group is carved in the round, the back following the natural convex curve of the tusk. The sculpture retains considerable traces of gilding and its red ground in the hair of both figures (and the beard of the beggar), on the edges of the garments, on the sword handle, hilt and scabbard, and on the reins of the horse. It is in good condition, although there are a number of long vertical surface cracks, most notably one running the length of the back of the beggar and into the cloak above. The short blade of the saint’s sword is now missing. This must have been made separately and glued to the protrusion at the hilt, and a small hole in the fold of the cloak, directly above the beggar’s head, shows where a pin would have held the tip of the blade in place. The end of the beggar’s crutch has been broken away, with the ground beneath it, and a section of the base between the front feet of the horse has also been lost. The group is mounted on a shallow modern wooden block, fixed with darkened plaster at the back and a wooden dowel through a hole in the centre of the base; at the time of acquisition it was set on an Empire-style metal base (illustrated in Sotheby’s sale catalogue). The episode represented here is narrated in the thirteenthcentury Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine: ‘Once, in the wintertime, Martin was passing through the city gate of Amiens when a poor man, almost naked, confronted him. No

one had given him any alms, and Martin understood that this man had been kept for him, so he drew his sword and cut the cloak he was wearing into two halves, giving one half to the beggar and wrapping himself in the other. The following night he had a vision of Christ wearing the part of his cloak with which he had covered the beggar, and heard Christ say to the angels who surrounded him: “Martin, while still a catechumen, gave me this to cover me.” The holy man saw this not as a reason for pride, but as evidence of God’s kindness, and had himself baptized at the age of eighteen.’ (Ryan 1993, II, p. 292). This scene was translated into visual form by the eleventh century, becoming one of the most common individual images of the Middle Ages. Groups of St Martin and the beggar were especially popular in sculpture on a larger scale, and numerous examples survive from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries (for a representative sample of French pieces see Paris 1961). Despite the scene’s ubiquity in wood and stone, no other ivory figures of St Martin and the beggar appear to survive, although an ivory diptych in Cleveland, probably made in Cologne and of about 1320–40, shows the scene in very similar form on its right leaf (Detroit-Baltimore 1997, cat. no. 41). However, a directly comparable ivory group, presumably of the same date but with the composition reversed, was once attached to a small casket in the Hallesches


101

[29] Saint Martin and the Beggar German (Cologne or Mainz); about 1320 Elephant ivory, gilded; h. 13.7 cm, w. at base 8.9 cm, max. d. at base 4.7 cm Inv. no. A.28–1939 Purchased through Mallett & Son at Sotheby’s, London, 29 June 1939 (lot 142, ill.; £440). In reply to an enquiry from Margaret Longhurst, Sotheby’s stated on 31 July: ‘As desired, we wrote to the late owner and asked if he knew the history of the little ivory group and he has replied as follows:– “As far as I can find out it was purchased by the people from whom I acquired it privately from a Repository Sale held in Norwich. I have found it was sold there with other sundry ivories of little importance. Apparently little was thought of it by the original owners. Beyond this I can find no family or other interesting history.” We are sorry that this information is so meagre.’ (Letter in V&A Sculpture Departmental Archive.) The young St Martin is shown on horseback, in the act of dividing his cloak and covering the beggar, who stands supporting himself with a crutch. The saint is bare-headed and dressed in a long robe, belted and with a scabbard hanging from his waist, his feet in spurs; the saddle, with girth, is shown below him. The beggar, wearing only loose trousers, looks up at St Martin and reaches out with his right arm to take the cloak. The group is carved in the round, the back following the natural convex curve of the tusk. The sculpture retains considerable traces of gilding and its red ground in the hair of both figures (and the beard of the beggar), on the edges of the garments, on the sword handle, hilt and scabbard, and on the reins of the horse. It is in good condition, although there are a number of long vertical surface cracks, most notably one running the length of the back of the beggar and into the cloak above. The short blade of the saint’s sword is now missing. This must have been made separately and glued to the protrusion at the hilt, and a small hole in the fold of the cloak, directly above the beggar’s head, shows where a pin would have held the tip of the blade in place. The end of the beggar’s crutch has been broken away, with the ground beneath it, and a section of the base between the front feet of the horse has also been lost. The group is mounted on a shallow modern wooden block, fixed with darkened plaster at the back and a wooden dowel through a hole in the centre of the base; at the time of acquisition it was set on an Empire-style metal base (illustrated in Sotheby’s sale catalogue). The episode represented here is narrated in the thirteenthcentury Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine: ‘Once, in the wintertime, Martin was passing through the city gate of Amiens when a poor man, almost naked, confronted him. No

one had given him any alms, and Martin understood that this man had been kept for him, so he drew his sword and cut the cloak he was wearing into two halves, giving one half to the beggar and wrapping himself in the other. The following night he had a vision of Christ wearing the part of his cloak with which he had covered the beggar, and heard Christ say to the angels who surrounded him: “Martin, while still a catechumen, gave me this to cover me.” The holy man saw this not as a reason for pride, but as evidence of God’s kindness, and had himself baptized at the age of eighteen.’ (Ryan 1993, II, p. 292). This scene was translated into visual form by the eleventh century, becoming one of the most common individual images of the Middle Ages. Groups of St Martin and the beggar were especially popular in sculpture on a larger scale, and numerous examples survive from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries (for a representative sample of French pieces see Paris 1961). Despite the scene’s ubiquity in wood and stone, no other ivory figures of St Martin and the beggar appear to survive, although an ivory diptych in Cleveland, probably made in Cologne and of about 1320–40, shows the scene in very similar form on its right leaf (Detroit-Baltimore 1997, cat. no. 41). However, a directly comparable ivory group, presumably of the same date but with the composition reversed, was once attached to a small casket in the Hallesches


Reliefs from Altarpieces


Reliefs from Altarpieces


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[43] Tabernacle Polyptych French (Paris); about 1300–20 Elephant ivory, painted and gilded; h. including base 38.9 cm, h. without base 33.5 cm, w. open 28.6 cm (reproduced 68%) Inv. no. 4686–1858 Previously in the Humann collection, Paris (Catalogue de la précieuse collection d’objets d’art et haute curiosité … composant le cabinet de feu Monsieur Humann, Paris, 8–15 February 1858; sold 8 February, lot 1; N B Longhurst was mistaken in stating that it was formerly in the Daugny collection, the sale of which took place in Paris in March 1858); purchased from John Webb, London, in 1858 (£350). In the centre, beneath a canopy supported on slender columns, is the standing Virgin crowned by a wingless angel emerging from clouds. In her right hand she once held a flower, now lost, and she supports the Christ-Child on her left arm; he holds an apple in his left hand and blesses with his right. The architectural details of the canopy are especially finely executed, setting it apart from the majority of ivory tabernacles: note especially the openwork cusps of the central arch and the beautiful naturalistic capitals. The crocketed wings are carved with scenes from the infancy of Christ, but not in narrative order: the Visitation, the Annunciation, the Nativity with Joseph holding the Christ-Child, the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple. The lower scenes are set beneath canopies with crocketed pediments and flanking pinnacles; in the gables are quatrefoils, with the exception of that above the Virgin and Christ-Child, which has a trefoil. Rosettes decorate the upper borders of the wings and central canopy, and the thin strips dividing the upper from the lower scenes on the wings. The polyptych is attached at its base to a separate plaque of ivory (a nail is driven through the drapery at the foot of the Virgin): this allows the wings – which hang below the level of the central section – to close around the core. This ivory plaque is in turn fixed to an ivory-faced pedestal. Contrary to Longhurst’s assumption that the latter is of later date, it is likely that it is original but the front was modified, probably in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, to display a relic of the Early Christian martyr St Chrysogonus. The inscribed label (S:Chrysogoni.M.) covers a small red silk bundle containing the relic, set against a textile panel of gold thread and two red tin stars. The polychrome decoration of the tabernacle now consists of two distinct layers in most places. The later layer – probably added in the mid-nineteenth century – is a thick, crudelyapplied coat of gold, red and light blue paint covering the original colours. Some of the raised gilded designs of the

bottom edge of the Virgin’s mantle are visible through the later paint, and the original designs on the collar band of her gown have escaped overpaint. Flesh-coloured paint was applied to the faces and hands of the figures throughout in the nineteenth-century restoration. This has not survived well but is most clearly visible on the two wings on the left side (a report prepared by Agnès Cascio and Juliette Levy in 1988 is kept in the departmental archive; see also Cascio and Levy 1998, pp. 17–20). The canopy is now missing its crockets at the front and half of the sides; these have been replaced in wood at the back. Corner pinnacles were once attached to the roof of the canopy; only the footing of one of these survives at the back, but holes (filled with wood plugs) and cross-hatching indicate that later replacements were added. Likewise a central pinnacle, probably made in ivory and fitted separately, was fixed to the middle of the roof. An idea of the original appearance may be gained from a similar and once well-preserved central section of a tabernacle in Berlin (sadly reduced to ten fragments at the end of the Second World War), which had ivory pinnacles at the corners and centre (Volbach 1923, no. 2113, pl. 42). The brass hinges are post-medieval but may predate the nineteenth century, and are constructed integrally with thick strips rivetted into the wings and central section. Two rivets, visible from the front, have been driven through each scene on the wings and four through the central back panel. These horizontal strips terminate with a simple closing mechanism which replaced the earlier pairs of clasps (the holes for which are visible at the edges of the outer wings above each strip). The pedestal originally had four feet (probably claw) at the corners, the holes for which remain, and the right section was


141

[43] Tabernacle Polyptych French (Paris); about 1300–20 Elephant ivory, painted and gilded; h. including base 38.9 cm, h. without base 33.5 cm, w. open 28.6 cm (reproduced 68%) Inv. no. 4686–1858 Previously in the Humann collection, Paris (Catalogue de la précieuse collection d’objets d’art et haute curiosité … composant le cabinet de feu Monsieur Humann, Paris, 8–15 February 1858; sold 8 February, lot 1; N B Longhurst was mistaken in stating that it was formerly in the Daugny collection, the sale of which took place in Paris in March 1858); purchased from John Webb, London, in 1858 (£350). In the centre, beneath a canopy supported on slender columns, is the standing Virgin crowned by a wingless angel emerging from clouds. In her right hand she once held a flower, now lost, and she supports the Christ-Child on her left arm; he holds an apple in his left hand and blesses with his right. The architectural details of the canopy are especially finely executed, setting it apart from the majority of ivory tabernacles: note especially the openwork cusps of the central arch and the beautiful naturalistic capitals. The crocketed wings are carved with scenes from the infancy of Christ, but not in narrative order: the Visitation, the Annunciation, the Nativity with Joseph holding the Christ-Child, the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple. The lower scenes are set beneath canopies with crocketed pediments and flanking pinnacles; in the gables are quatrefoils, with the exception of that above the Virgin and Christ-Child, which has a trefoil. Rosettes decorate the upper borders of the wings and central canopy, and the thin strips dividing the upper from the lower scenes on the wings. The polyptych is attached at its base to a separate plaque of ivory (a nail is driven through the drapery at the foot of the Virgin): this allows the wings – which hang below the level of the central section – to close around the core. This ivory plaque is in turn fixed to an ivory-faced pedestal. Contrary to Longhurst’s assumption that the latter is of later date, it is likely that it is original but the front was modified, probably in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, to display a relic of the Early Christian martyr St Chrysogonus. The inscribed label (S:Chrysogoni.M.) covers a small red silk bundle containing the relic, set against a textile panel of gold thread and two red tin stars. The polychrome decoration of the tabernacle now consists of two distinct layers in most places. The later layer – probably added in the mid-nineteenth century – is a thick, crudelyapplied coat of gold, red and light blue paint covering the original colours. Some of the raised gilded designs of the

bottom edge of the Virgin’s mantle are visible through the later paint, and the original designs on the collar band of her gown have escaped overpaint. Flesh-coloured paint was applied to the faces and hands of the figures throughout in the nineteenth-century restoration. This has not survived well but is most clearly visible on the two wings on the left side (a report prepared by Agnès Cascio and Juliette Levy in 1988 is kept in the departmental archive; see also Cascio and Levy 1998, pp. 17–20). The canopy is now missing its crockets at the front and half of the sides; these have been replaced in wood at the back. Corner pinnacles were once attached to the roof of the canopy; only the footing of one of these survives at the back, but holes (filled with wood plugs) and cross-hatching indicate that later replacements were added. Likewise a central pinnacle, probably made in ivory and fitted separately, was fixed to the middle of the roof. An idea of the original appearance may be gained from a similar and once well-preserved central section of a tabernacle in Berlin (sadly reduced to ten fragments at the end of the Second World War), which had ivory pinnacles at the corners and centre (Volbach 1923, no. 2113, pl. 42). The brass hinges are post-medieval but may predate the nineteenth century, and are constructed integrally with thick strips rivetted into the wings and central section. Two rivets, visible from the front, have been driven through each scene on the wings and four through the central back panel. These horizontal strips terminate with a simple closing mechanism which replaced the earlier pairs of clasps (the holes for which are visible at the edges of the outer wings above each strip). The pedestal originally had four feet (probably claw) at the corners, the holes for which remain, and the right section was


163

Triptychs As was suggested in the introduction to the previous section, the Gothic triptych was to all intents and purposes a subbranch of the tabernacle polyptych, with a shallower central panel and two, rather than four, hinged wings. The subject matter was the same, dominated by single images of the standing Virgin with Child and scenes from the infancy of Christ, and medieval inventories did not distinguish between the two types. Although it could be argued that triptychs should be viewed as modest alternatives to the often larger and more iconographically complex tabernacle polyptychs, they might instead be seen – like diptychs – as better suited to the needs of a travelling clientele, who would wish to take these small portable altars with them as aids to prayer. Unlike the tabernacle polyptych, which is a Northern European phenomenon, the Gothic ivory triptych appears to be inspired by Byzantine models. The ivory triptych and diptych were not forms which were found in the North in the Romanesque period immediately preceding the earliest Gothic pieces of the second quarter of the thirteenth century (see Little 1979, pp. 63–64, and Guérin 2009, pp. 328–32). The triptych format, however, was popular in Byzantium from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, invariably featuring the Virgin and Child or the Crucifixion on the central panel and often with standing saints on the wings (for examples, see Goldschmidt and Weitzmann 1934, cat. nos 38 and 73, pls X V and X X IX, and passim). Such pieces had certainly made their way into French and Italian church treasuries and private ownership even before the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and after that date they would have been even more widely available. The presence of these models, an increasing public devotion to the Virgin and the growth of private worship all combined to inspire the production of a northern version of the Byzantine archetype. Like diptychs, the method of fabrication of the triptychs sometimes reveals that they were intended to be carried in cases, usually of cuir bouilli (boiled leather). The careful bevelling of the backs of the central panel and inner edges of the wings on a good number of the triptychs, for example, would have allowed them to slide without hindrance into such cases, and a rare set of triptych and leather case survives in the remote parish church at Alba Fucens in the Abruzzo (Leone de Castris 1994, fig. 13). Unlike diptychs, however, the triptychs were often constructed in an additive manner, especially at top and bottom. Many of them, like the tabernacle polyptychs, have (or had – they are often lost) separately-made bases or pedestals to allow them to stand with stability; and the decorative embellishments to the central gable and wings, usually consisting of rows of crockets and a terminal fleuron, were frequently added to the main body of the triptych by glueing

to cross-hatched surfaces or by using pegs to secure them. In some cases, the actual tips of the gable and wings were made separately and attached by means of a tongue-and-groove mechanism (see cat. nos 55–56): this was an economical use of ivory, as the plaques employed could be smaller. PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 116–41.


163

Triptychs As was suggested in the introduction to the previous section, the Gothic triptych was to all intents and purposes a subbranch of the tabernacle polyptych, with a shallower central panel and two, rather than four, hinged wings. The subject matter was the same, dominated by single images of the standing Virgin with Child and scenes from the infancy of Christ, and medieval inventories did not distinguish between the two types. Although it could be argued that triptychs should be viewed as modest alternatives to the often larger and more iconographically complex tabernacle polyptychs, they might instead be seen – like diptychs – as better suited to the needs of a travelling clientele, who would wish to take these small portable altars with them as aids to prayer. Unlike the tabernacle polyptych, which is a Northern European phenomenon, the Gothic ivory triptych appears to be inspired by Byzantine models. The ivory triptych and diptych were not forms which were found in the North in the Romanesque period immediately preceding the earliest Gothic pieces of the second quarter of the thirteenth century (see Little 1979, pp. 63–64, and Guérin 2009, pp. 328–32). The triptych format, however, was popular in Byzantium from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, invariably featuring the Virgin and Child or the Crucifixion on the central panel and often with standing saints on the wings (for examples, see Goldschmidt and Weitzmann 1934, cat. nos 38 and 73, pls X V and X X IX, and passim). Such pieces had certainly made their way into French and Italian church treasuries and private ownership even before the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and after that date they would have been even more widely available. The presence of these models, an increasing public devotion to the Virgin and the growth of private worship all combined to inspire the production of a northern version of the Byzantine archetype. Like diptychs, the method of fabrication of the triptychs sometimes reveals that they were intended to be carried in cases, usually of cuir bouilli (boiled leather). The careful bevelling of the backs of the central panel and inner edges of the wings on a good number of the triptychs, for example, would have allowed them to slide without hindrance into such cases, and a rare set of triptych and leather case survives in the remote parish church at Alba Fucens in the Abruzzo (Leone de Castris 1994, fig. 13). Unlike diptychs, however, the triptychs were often constructed in an additive manner, especially at top and bottom. Many of them, like the tabernacle polyptychs, have (or had – they are often lost) separately-made bases or pedestals to allow them to stand with stability; and the decorative embellishments to the central gable and wings, usually consisting of rows of crockets and a terminal fleuron, were frequently added to the main body of the triptych by glueing

to cross-hatched surfaces or by using pegs to secure them. In some cases, the actual tips of the gable and wings were made separately and attached by means of a tongue-and-groove mechanism (see cat. nos 55–56): this was an economical use of ivory, as the plaques employed could be smaller. PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 116–41.


197

[63] Triptych French; middle of the fourteenth century Elephant ivory; max h. right side of central panel 30 cm, w. of central panel 14.8 cm, total w. at base 29.9 cm (reproduced 75%) Inv. no. 141–1866 Purchased from John Webb, London, in 1866 (£448); previous provenance unknown, but not displayed with the other Webb ivories in the 1862 London exhibition so presumably acquired by him between 1862 and 1866. In the centre is the monumental standing figure of the Virgin, in the act of being crowned by an angel above; she looks fondly at the Christ-Child, supporting him on her left arm and holding a lily in her right. The Child, looking up to the Virgin’s face, grasps her veil with his right hand and holds a small apple in his left. The canopy above them consists of a trefoil arch on slender columns and is flanked by two turrets with niches. The central gable and the side turrets were completed with separate pieces of ivory (not cut down as reported by Longhurst). Cross-hatching on the upper surfaces indicates that these were glued in place and a single hole in each turret would have held a peg to secure the pinnacles above. On the wings are the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds (only one shown), the three Magi and the Presentation in the Temple; above, in the semi-gables, are two angels, that on the left holding the sun, that on the right the moon. The narrative scenes take place under trefoil arches, with single rosettes in the spandrels. The tips of the wings are also missing; like the central gable these were probably originally glued on but here there are no signs of cross-hatching for adhesion. The wings were originally attached to the central panel with long ‘straw hinges’, set in shallow recesses, riveted to the ivory in three places on each side; the present brass hinges were added later, as were the two rings and clasps on the wings to keep them shut (for the rare employment of straw hinges see cat. nos 78, 79; GaboritChopin 2003, cat. nos 111 and 113; and Williamson 2010, p. 44, for their use on the sixth-century Anastasius Diptych). The underside of the central panel is cross-hatched and has two dowel holes to hold in place a separately-made ivory wedge and to fix the triptych to a pedestal. When the triptych was acquired in 1866, the central panel was backed with a wooden board (seen most clearly in the photograph in Maskell 1872). This was only removed at an unknown date after both Koechlin and Longhurst had catalogued the triptych, and it is clear that neither had seen the ivory back of the panel. The backboard had presumably been added after the central panel had been restored (probably in the early 1860s) with the addition of a substantial section

of ivory on the right side, after the original thin background had split from top to bottom and fallen out. Once the wooden board had been removed it could be seen that the back of the central panel had originally been painted with a large standing figure with halo below a trefoil arch with foliate crockets. Only the negative ‘ghost’ of this figure now survives (where the paint and gilding, now lost, has left the lighter-coloured ivory visible), so its identification must remain conjectural (Christ?). Extremely faint remains of tracery also survive in the upper parts of the wings. Apart from the losses already noted, the triptych is in good condition. The apex of the central arch was restored in ivory after 1929, but none of the figures has been restored (despite Koechlin’s erroneous assertion that ‘la main droite de la Vierge est refaite et le bout du pied droit’). A natural ‘pearl’ in the ivory slightly disfigures the left cheek of the Virgin, and there is a large fissure caused by a hinge rivet to the left side of the Nativity scene, above the head of the Virgin. No paint remains on the front face of the triptych, but the now very faint ghosts of gilded rosettes can still be seen in the backgrounds, especially on the left wing. The central panel of this triptych constitutes one of the largest ivory plaques known from the Gothic period (it is


197

[63] Triptych French; middle of the fourteenth century Elephant ivory; max h. right side of central panel 30 cm, w. of central panel 14.8 cm, total w. at base 29.9 cm (reproduced 75%) Inv. no. 141–1866 Purchased from John Webb, London, in 1866 (£448); previous provenance unknown, but not displayed with the other Webb ivories in the 1862 London exhibition so presumably acquired by him between 1862 and 1866. In the centre is the monumental standing figure of the Virgin, in the act of being crowned by an angel above; she looks fondly at the Christ-Child, supporting him on her left arm and holding a lily in her right. The Child, looking up to the Virgin’s face, grasps her veil with his right hand and holds a small apple in his left. The canopy above them consists of a trefoil arch on slender columns and is flanked by two turrets with niches. The central gable and the side turrets were completed with separate pieces of ivory (not cut down as reported by Longhurst). Cross-hatching on the upper surfaces indicates that these were glued in place and a single hole in each turret would have held a peg to secure the pinnacles above. On the wings are the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds (only one shown), the three Magi and the Presentation in the Temple; above, in the semi-gables, are two angels, that on the left holding the sun, that on the right the moon. The narrative scenes take place under trefoil arches, with single rosettes in the spandrels. The tips of the wings are also missing; like the central gable these were probably originally glued on but here there are no signs of cross-hatching for adhesion. The wings were originally attached to the central panel with long ‘straw hinges’, set in shallow recesses, riveted to the ivory in three places on each side; the present brass hinges were added later, as were the two rings and clasps on the wings to keep them shut (for the rare employment of straw hinges see cat. nos 78, 79; GaboritChopin 2003, cat. nos 111 and 113; and Williamson 2010, p. 44, for their use on the sixth-century Anastasius Diptych). The underside of the central panel is cross-hatched and has two dowel holes to hold in place a separately-made ivory wedge and to fix the triptych to a pedestal. When the triptych was acquired in 1866, the central panel was backed with a wooden board (seen most clearly in the photograph in Maskell 1872). This was only removed at an unknown date after both Koechlin and Longhurst had catalogued the triptych, and it is clear that neither had seen the ivory back of the panel. The backboard had presumably been added after the central panel had been restored (probably in the early 1860s) with the addition of a substantial section

of ivory on the right side, after the original thin background had split from top to bottom and fallen out. Once the wooden board had been removed it could be seen that the back of the central panel had originally been painted with a large standing figure with halo below a trefoil arch with foliate crockets. Only the negative ‘ghost’ of this figure now survives (where the paint and gilding, now lost, has left the lighter-coloured ivory visible), so its identification must remain conjectural (Christ?). Extremely faint remains of tracery also survive in the upper parts of the wings. Apart from the losses already noted, the triptych is in good condition. The apex of the central arch was restored in ivory after 1929, but none of the figures has been restored (despite Koechlin’s erroneous assertion that ‘la main droite de la Vierge est refaite et le bout du pied droit’). A natural ‘pearl’ in the ivory slightly disfigures the left cheek of the Virgin, and there is a large fissure caused by a hinge rivet to the left side of the Nativity scene, above the head of the Virgin. No paint remains on the front face of the triptych, but the now very faint ghosts of gilded rosettes can still be seen in the backgrounds, especially on the left wing. The central panel of this triptych constitutes one of the largest ivory plaques known from the Gothic period (it is


217

[68] Diptych (‘The Soissons Diptych’) French (Paris); about 1270 Elephant ivory, painted and gilded (restored); h. of left leaf 32.1 cm; h. of right leaf 31.9 cm, max. w. of each leaf 11.8 cm (reproduced 75%) Inv. no. 211–1865 In 1861 Alfred Darcel stated that the diptych was already in England, having been removed from the abbey of SaintJean-des-Vignes in Soissons during the French Revolution (‘un magnifique diptyque en ivoire qui fut enlevé à l’abbaye Saint-Jean-des-Vignes de Soissons pendant la Révolution, et qui est aujourd’hui en Angleterre’: Annales Archéologiques, X X I, 1861, p. 193). It was presumably at that time in the possession of John Webb in London, although by the following year it was described as ‘from the treasury of the Cathedral of Soissons’ rather than from Saint-Jean-des-Vignes (London 1862, cat. no. 72). The diptych was purchased from Webb in 1865 for £308, the curator J.C. Robinson again noting that it was ‘formerly in the treasury of the Cathedral in Soissons’ (V&A Archive, Robinson Papers, 65/15475, List of ancient ivories selected for purchase from the Webb Collection). The abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in Soissons, mentioned by Darcel as the original home of this diptych, was an Augustinian house, the main church of which was largely reconstructed during the thirteenth century. Since the Revolution the buildings have been ruined, and they were further damaged during the First World War. Only a few documents remain to shed light on the organization of the abbey, the most significant of which is an obituary (Paris, BN F, MS. nal. 713), which lists many of the benefactors of the institution and the gifts they made to it. Unfortunately, it makes no mention of an ivory diptych, and nor do the published inventories of the abbey and other churches of Soissons, including the cathedral (Koechlin 1924, II, p. 18); it therefore seems unlikely that the putative provenance from the abbey will ever be proved, even if a Soissons provenance is likely. Danielle Gaborit-Chopin has also pointed out that the extensive sack of the abbey carried out by the Calvinists in 1567 suggests that if the diptych was at SaintJean-des-Vignes, then it may not have arrived in the treasury until after that date (Paris 1998, p. 141). To Darcel’s claim for Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, Koechlin added the note that members of the antiquarian society of Soissons in the mid-nineteenth century maintained a tradition that the diptych had indeed come from the abbey (Koechlin 1924, II, pp. 18–19). The diptych is formed of three registers, each topped with an arcade of trefoil arches. Each arch is pierced, and is supported on a corbel. Above each arch is a tall gable, decorated with small crockets and pierced in the tympanum with a cinquefoil rose window decoration surrounded by

three small trefoils. Between each gable is a tower, with battlementing on the summit. Between each register, there is a moulding decorated in relief with vine leaves. The architecture of the topmost register projects above the body of the diptych to form an uneven row of gables and towers. Despite its elaborate construction, the architectural frame is surprisingly uneven. The gables are not exactly the same size, and many of them lean to the left or right; for example, the central gable of the topmost row on the left leaf has a pronounced lean to the right. The two central gables of the topmost row have deep circular holes pierced into their top edges, for the attachment of separately-carved finials (now lost). The carved scenes each take place beneath one of the trefoil arches, although there are no divisions between them, so that they spread out across the diptych to appear as a single relief of figures. The narrative follows the ‘boustrophedon’ pattern, starting in the lowest register and reading from left to right, moving to the middle register and reading from right to left, and concluding in the topmost register reading from left to right. They depict: Judas receiving the thirty pieces of silver;


217

[68] Diptych (‘The Soissons Diptych’) French (Paris); about 1270 Elephant ivory, painted and gilded (restored); h. of left leaf 32.1 cm; h. of right leaf 31.9 cm, max. w. of each leaf 11.8 cm (reproduced 75%) Inv. no. 211–1865 In 1861 Alfred Darcel stated that the diptych was already in England, having been removed from the abbey of SaintJean-des-Vignes in Soissons during the French Revolution (‘un magnifique diptyque en ivoire qui fut enlevé à l’abbaye Saint-Jean-des-Vignes de Soissons pendant la Révolution, et qui est aujourd’hui en Angleterre’: Annales Archéologiques, X X I, 1861, p. 193). It was presumably at that time in the possession of John Webb in London, although by the following year it was described as ‘from the treasury of the Cathedral of Soissons’ rather than from Saint-Jean-des-Vignes (London 1862, cat. no. 72). The diptych was purchased from Webb in 1865 for £308, the curator J.C. Robinson again noting that it was ‘formerly in the treasury of the Cathedral in Soissons’ (V&A Archive, Robinson Papers, 65/15475, List of ancient ivories selected for purchase from the Webb Collection). The abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in Soissons, mentioned by Darcel as the original home of this diptych, was an Augustinian house, the main church of which was largely reconstructed during the thirteenth century. Since the Revolution the buildings have been ruined, and they were further damaged during the First World War. Only a few documents remain to shed light on the organization of the abbey, the most significant of which is an obituary (Paris, BN F, MS. nal. 713), which lists many of the benefactors of the institution and the gifts they made to it. Unfortunately, it makes no mention of an ivory diptych, and nor do the published inventories of the abbey and other churches of Soissons, including the cathedral (Koechlin 1924, II, p. 18); it therefore seems unlikely that the putative provenance from the abbey will ever be proved, even if a Soissons provenance is likely. Danielle Gaborit-Chopin has also pointed out that the extensive sack of the abbey carried out by the Calvinists in 1567 suggests that if the diptych was at SaintJean-des-Vignes, then it may not have arrived in the treasury until after that date (Paris 1998, p. 141). To Darcel’s claim for Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, Koechlin added the note that members of the antiquarian society of Soissons in the mid-nineteenth century maintained a tradition that the diptych had indeed come from the abbey (Koechlin 1924, II, pp. 18–19). The diptych is formed of three registers, each topped with an arcade of trefoil arches. Each arch is pierced, and is supported on a corbel. Above each arch is a tall gable, decorated with small crockets and pierced in the tympanum with a cinquefoil rose window decoration surrounded by

three small trefoils. Between each gable is a tower, with battlementing on the summit. Between each register, there is a moulding decorated in relief with vine leaves. The architecture of the topmost register projects above the body of the diptych to form an uneven row of gables and towers. Despite its elaborate construction, the architectural frame is surprisingly uneven. The gables are not exactly the same size, and many of them lean to the left or right; for example, the central gable of the topmost row on the left leaf has a pronounced lean to the right. The two central gables of the topmost row have deep circular holes pierced into their top edges, for the attachment of separately-carved finials (now lost). The carved scenes each take place beneath one of the trefoil arches, although there are no divisions between them, so that they spread out across the diptych to appear as a single relief of figures. The narrative follows the ‘boustrophedon’ pattern, starting in the lowest register and reading from left to right, moving to the middle register and reading from right to left, and concluding in the topmost register reading from left to right. They depict: Judas receiving the thirty pieces of silver;


346

347

Religious Writing Tablets and Boxes Ivory covers for writing tablets survive in good numbers from the fourteenth century. Wax writing tablets, or panels of a hard material filled with layers of wax that could be inscribed with a stylus, were common in Antiquity, and continued in use throughout the early Middle Ages (for a survey, see Büll 1968). Given their portability, the lack of need for ink, and the fact that their surfaces could be erased and reused, they were particularly suitable for note-taking and are often shown being used for this purpose in the miniatures of medieval manuscripts (ibid., figs 605, 608–9). Other evidence suggests that they were often used for accounting purposes; an English treatise on manorial accounting known as the Seneschaucie, for example, warned reeves not to write their notes on wax tablets but on parchment, presumably because of the risk of erasure (Oschinsky 1947, p. 53). The state archives of the Polish city of Torun´ contain 127 wooden wax writing tablets dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which bear lists of rents, debts and other financial dealings of the municipal council (Szczuczko 2001). Small sets of tablets could be used for more whimsical purposes: a set of eight fourteenth-century wooden tablets in a cuir bouilli cover excavated in York still bears a fragment of love poetry, as well as a list of accounts and an extract of a legal document (Brown 1994). Writing tablets were also used in religious houses, such as the booklet described in the 1480 inventory of the treasury of the nuns of Maubeuge in France: ‘Item, six foelletz à manières de taulettes tout d’yvor, aux quelz sont entretaillés pluiseurs hystoires de la Vierge Marie et de la Passion’ (quoted in Serbat 1913, pp. 306–7). The majority of such tablets would have been made of wood, although other materials such as gold, silver and bone were also used (for a bone example, see London 1987, cat. no. 428). The Parisian guild of ‘tabletiers’ was allowed to work with a variety of materials, including ivory (for a discussion, see Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 434–35, but see also Lalou 1989, p. 126); the earliest surviving Gothic ivory writing tablets date from no earlier than the 1320s, and it is unclear whether they were being made in the thirteenth century. In most cases, the tablets formed part of a group of up to eight panels, only the covers of which were carved with imagery on their outer faces. Although Koechlin’s discussion gives the reader the impression that the majority of surviving writing tablets bear secular imagery, the larger portion of those surviving in fact depict religious scenes. The majority of surviving tablets have a simple raised border around the area for writing. Others, however, are subdivided into smaller fields; a tablet in Liverpool, for example, is divided into two columns (fig. 1). Several tablets in the V&A’s collection are divided into four, with a large central circular depression carved more deeply than the surrounding fields (see cat. nos 132–33, 135 and

FIG. 1. Reverse of a cover for writing tablets; Northern French or Mosan, late fourteenth century (National Museums Liverpool, inv. no. 53.114.280)

FIG. 3. Set of writing tablets with cuir bouilli case and stylus; French, middle of the fourteenth century (Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois, Namur, inv. no. 29)

FIG. 2. Illustration of writing tablets published by Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, Paris, 1722, vol. I I I /2, pl. cxciv

243). Both these types of tablet can be seen in an ivory booklet reproduced in the early eighteenth century by Montfaucon (fig. 2). The purpose of such divisions is unclear, but must have reflected the tablet’s intended function and may have been used for mixing wax or coloured inks. The booklets could be hinged with an applied strip of parchment (cat. no. 121); or with cords, as in the example reproduced by Montfaucon; or with a fixing pin, from which the leaves could be fanned out, as in an example in the Musée du Louvre in Paris (GaboritChopin 2003, cat. no. 222). Such booklets would often have been provided with leather travelling cases: the best-preserved example pertaining to an ivory booklet is that at Namur (fig. 3). Some booklets have paintings on their inner leaves (see cat. no. 121). In some cases these are later additions, but other examples seem to have been deliberately manufactured in this way. These are not writing tablets but devotional booklets, since the images are always religious. A booklet of this type in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Wixom 1999, cat. no. 152) has covers that are carved on both sides, a feature sometimes encountered in individual surviving plaques, such as cat. no. 127.

In addition to writing tablets, and sometimes confused with them, several shallow ivory boxes also survive (see cat. no. 119). These could have sliding lids, or be formed from two hinged leaves. Richard Randall proposed that one type of box was intended to carry a small set of balance and weights, of the type that would have been useful for any merchant (Randall 1985a; but see also the view of Élisabeth Taburet-Delahaye in Paris-Écouen 2009, pp. 49–50). It has been suggested that other types may have been used as painters’ pigment boxes while the function of further examples, such as cat. no. 119, remains mysterious. The imagery on most surviving religious writing tablets and boxes derives primarily from diptychs, typically the type that Koechlin called ‘à frises d’arcatures’. In many cases, the quality of the carving is lower than that commonly found on diptychs, at least partly as a result of the fact that writing tablets are thinner than diptych leaves. However, as cat. no. 135 demonstrates, writing tablets could bear innovative and high quality carving. GD BIBLIO GR A PH Y Méril 1860; Serbat 1913; Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 176–78, 432–45; Büll 1968; Randall 1985a; Lalou 1989; Brown 1994; Bousmanne 2002.


346

347

Religious Writing Tablets and Boxes Ivory covers for writing tablets survive in good numbers from the fourteenth century. Wax writing tablets, or panels of a hard material filled with layers of wax that could be inscribed with a stylus, were common in Antiquity, and continued in use throughout the early Middle Ages (for a survey, see Büll 1968). Given their portability, the lack of need for ink, and the fact that their surfaces could be erased and reused, they were particularly suitable for note-taking and are often shown being used for this purpose in the miniatures of medieval manuscripts (ibid., figs 605, 608–9). Other evidence suggests that they were often used for accounting purposes; an English treatise on manorial accounting known as the Seneschaucie, for example, warned reeves not to write their notes on wax tablets but on parchment, presumably because of the risk of erasure (Oschinsky 1947, p. 53). The state archives of the Polish city of Torun´ contain 127 wooden wax writing tablets dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which bear lists of rents, debts and other financial dealings of the municipal council (Szczuczko 2001). Small sets of tablets could be used for more whimsical purposes: a set of eight fourteenth-century wooden tablets in a cuir bouilli cover excavated in York still bears a fragment of love poetry, as well as a list of accounts and an extract of a legal document (Brown 1994). Writing tablets were also used in religious houses, such as the booklet described in the 1480 inventory of the treasury of the nuns of Maubeuge in France: ‘Item, six foelletz à manières de taulettes tout d’yvor, aux quelz sont entretaillés pluiseurs hystoires de la Vierge Marie et de la Passion’ (quoted in Serbat 1913, pp. 306–7). The majority of such tablets would have been made of wood, although other materials such as gold, silver and bone were also used (for a bone example, see London 1987, cat. no. 428). The Parisian guild of ‘tabletiers’ was allowed to work with a variety of materials, including ivory (for a discussion, see Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 434–35, but see also Lalou 1989, p. 126); the earliest surviving Gothic ivory writing tablets date from no earlier than the 1320s, and it is unclear whether they were being made in the thirteenth century. In most cases, the tablets formed part of a group of up to eight panels, only the covers of which were carved with imagery on their outer faces. Although Koechlin’s discussion gives the reader the impression that the majority of surviving writing tablets bear secular imagery, the larger portion of those surviving in fact depict religious scenes. The majority of surviving tablets have a simple raised border around the area for writing. Others, however, are subdivided into smaller fields; a tablet in Liverpool, for example, is divided into two columns (fig. 1). Several tablets in the V&A’s collection are divided into four, with a large central circular depression carved more deeply than the surrounding fields (see cat. nos 132–33, 135 and

FIG. 1. Reverse of a cover for writing tablets; Northern French or Mosan, late fourteenth century (National Museums Liverpool, inv. no. 53.114.280)

FIG. 3. Set of writing tablets with cuir bouilli case and stylus; French, middle of the fourteenth century (Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois, Namur, inv. no. 29)

FIG. 2. Illustration of writing tablets published by Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, Paris, 1722, vol. I I I /2, pl. cxciv

243). Both these types of tablet can be seen in an ivory booklet reproduced in the early eighteenth century by Montfaucon (fig. 2). The purpose of such divisions is unclear, but must have reflected the tablet’s intended function and may have been used for mixing wax or coloured inks. The booklets could be hinged with an applied strip of parchment (cat. no. 121); or with cords, as in the example reproduced by Montfaucon; or with a fixing pin, from which the leaves could be fanned out, as in an example in the Musée du Louvre in Paris (GaboritChopin 2003, cat. no. 222). Such booklets would often have been provided with leather travelling cases: the best-preserved example pertaining to an ivory booklet is that at Namur (fig. 3). Some booklets have paintings on their inner leaves (see cat. no. 121). In some cases these are later additions, but other examples seem to have been deliberately manufactured in this way. These are not writing tablets but devotional booklets, since the images are always religious. A booklet of this type in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Wixom 1999, cat. no. 152) has covers that are carved on both sides, a feature sometimes encountered in individual surviving plaques, such as cat. no. 127.

In addition to writing tablets, and sometimes confused with them, several shallow ivory boxes also survive (see cat. no. 119). These could have sliding lids, or be formed from two hinged leaves. Richard Randall proposed that one type of box was intended to carry a small set of balance and weights, of the type that would have been useful for any merchant (Randall 1985a; but see also the view of Élisabeth Taburet-Delahaye in Paris-Écouen 2009, pp. 49–50). It has been suggested that other types may have been used as painters’ pigment boxes while the function of further examples, such as cat. no. 119, remains mysterious. The imagery on most surviving religious writing tablets and boxes derives primarily from diptychs, typically the type that Koechlin called ‘à frises d’arcatures’. In many cases, the quality of the carving is lower than that commonly found on diptychs, at least partly as a result of the fact that writing tablets are thinner than diptych leaves. However, as cat. no. 135 demonstrates, writing tablets could bear innovative and high quality carving. GD BIBLIO GR A PH Y Méril 1860; Serbat 1913; Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 176–78, 432–45; Büll 1968; Randall 1985a; Lalou 1989; Brown 1994; Bousmanne 2002.


418

CROZIER S

[146] Head of a Crozier French (Paris); about 1310–20 Elephant ivory; h. 13 cm, w. 11 cm (reproduced 88%) Inv. no. 365–1871 Purchased from John Webb, London, in 1871 (£120); on loan to the Museum from 1867. The pierced volute is carved with vine leaves and contains on one side the Crucifixion, with Christ on the cross between the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, who both stand on foliate consoles growing out from the inside of the volute. On the other side, carved back-to-back with the Crucifixion, is the seated Virgin, holding the stem of a flower in her right hand

419

and supporting the Christ-Child with her left; he wears a long tunic and holds a small apple in his left hand. The Virgin and Child are flanked by two standing angels holding candlesticks (with no candles) who, like the Virgin and St John on the other side, stand on foliate consoles. The crozier head is in good condition, having suffered only one minor chip to the bottom edge of the stem on the side of the Crucifixion. There is a series of small vertical cracks, most notably on the stem, and a more serious diagonal break where the leaf joining the volute to the stem has split. The underside of the stem has been scored with lines to aid adhesion to a further section; the ivory peg dowel set in the original round hole is probably a modern addition. It is not now possible to know whether the continuation of the stem once terminated with a dragon’s head, as in the following

example (cat. no. 147) or whether it was plain, although the former seems more likely. The carving is of fine quality, the vine leaves precisely delineated and undercut and the figures carefully incorporated into the circular spaces on each side of the volute. Although the decorative scheme follows the canonical arrangement for croziers of Crucifixion and Virgin and Child, the Virgin is here shown seated rather than standing, and is the only French fourteenth-century example of this type so far recorded. The Virgin and Child can be linked stylistically with several ivory statuettes and other carvings which clearly indicate a date around 1310–20. The arrangement of the Virgin’s drapery, her facial type, and the standing Christ-Child with long tunic are all close to those found on a small group of ivory seated Virgins in Baltimore, London (British Museum and V&A), Villeneuve-

lès-Avignon and in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (see cat. no. 6 and Williamson 1987, cat. no. 22, pp. 118–21). Additionally, there are similarities with ivory reliefs of the seated Virgin on diptychs which may be dated early in the fourteenth century, such as one in the V&A (cat. no. 75) and another in Lyons (Paris 1998, cat. nos 92–93). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Maskell 1872, p. 128; Middleton 1894, p. 245, pl. on p. 260; Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 271, 274; II, cat. no. 754; III, pl. CX X V; Watts 1924, cat. no. 24; Longhurst 1929, pp. 33–34, pl. X X X II. EX HIBITED Magdeburg 2008–9, cat. no. I.26 (M.T. Kloft).


418

CROZIER S

[146] Head of a Crozier French (Paris); about 1310–20 Elephant ivory; h. 13 cm, w. 11 cm (reproduced 88%) Inv. no. 365–1871 Purchased from John Webb, London, in 1871 (£120); on loan to the Museum from 1867. The pierced volute is carved with vine leaves and contains on one side the Crucifixion, with Christ on the cross between the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, who both stand on foliate consoles growing out from the inside of the volute. On the other side, carved back-to-back with the Crucifixion, is the seated Virgin, holding the stem of a flower in her right hand

419

and supporting the Christ-Child with her left; he wears a long tunic and holds a small apple in his left hand. The Virgin and Child are flanked by two standing angels holding candlesticks (with no candles) who, like the Virgin and St John on the other side, stand on foliate consoles. The crozier head is in good condition, having suffered only one minor chip to the bottom edge of the stem on the side of the Crucifixion. There is a series of small vertical cracks, most notably on the stem, and a more serious diagonal break where the leaf joining the volute to the stem has split. The underside of the stem has been scored with lines to aid adhesion to a further section; the ivory peg dowel set in the original round hole is probably a modern addition. It is not now possible to know whether the continuation of the stem once terminated with a dragon’s head, as in the following

example (cat. no. 147) or whether it was plain, although the former seems more likely. The carving is of fine quality, the vine leaves precisely delineated and undercut and the figures carefully incorporated into the circular spaces on each side of the volute. Although the decorative scheme follows the canonical arrangement for croziers of Crucifixion and Virgin and Child, the Virgin is here shown seated rather than standing, and is the only French fourteenth-century example of this type so far recorded. The Virgin and Child can be linked stylistically with several ivory statuettes and other carvings which clearly indicate a date around 1310–20. The arrangement of the Virgin’s drapery, her facial type, and the standing Christ-Child with long tunic are all close to those found on a small group of ivory seated Virgins in Baltimore, London (British Museum and V&A), Villeneuve-

lès-Avignon and in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (see cat. no. 6 and Williamson 1987, cat. no. 22, pp. 118–21). Additionally, there are similarities with ivory reliefs of the seated Virgin on diptychs which may be dated early in the fourteenth century, such as one in the V&A (cat. no. 75) and another in Lyons (Paris 1998, cat. nos 92–93). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Maskell 1872, p. 128; Middleton 1894, p. 245, pl. on p. 260; Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 271, 274; II, cat. no. 754; III, pl. CX X V; Watts 1924, cat. no. 24; Longhurst 1929, pp. 33–34, pl. X X X II. EX HIBITED Magdeburg 2008–9, cat. no. I.26 (M.T. Kloft).


501

[172] Casket Upper Rhenish or Eastern French (Alsace?); about 1420–50 Bone, ivory, horn and silk on a wooden carcase with gilt-copper fittings; h. not including handle 20.6 cm, w. 28.7 cm, d. 12.6 cm (reproduced 50%) Inv. no. 7660–1862 Purchased from John Webb, London, in 1862 (£100); according to William Maskell it was ‘said to have been found hidden in a recess of a wall, a few years ago, on the final demolition of a ruined chateau in France’ (Maskell 1872, p. 34). The wooden carcase is very simply made, the sides connected with mitred joints. The casket has warped over the years and does not close properly. Each face of the casket is covered with chequered patterns of bone and horn, and borders of carved strips of pierced bone, held in place by brass nails, with coloured strips of silk beneath. The silk fabrics alternate in colour, between green and a lighter colour, which is either a faded red or yellow. Each long side has two figurative plaques, while the short sides have one. The front of the casket depicts two wild men under elaborate canopies, that on the left shooting an arrow skywards, the other holding a club. Reading from left to right around the casket, the remaining figurative plaques depict St Catherine, a bearded figure holding a triangular object (tentatively identified by Longhurst as St Philip the Apostle), St Barbara and St Peter. Each of the figures has black dots of applied pigment to indicate their eyes. The borders of each face of the casket have applied plaques representing foliage and flowers. At each of the upper corners is an applied ivory corbel representing the head of a green man. The lid has two decorative plaques of flamboyant tracery designs. The hinges and handles are of copper-gilt. The lock plate has been removed, and the clasp that fitted into it has snapped off. The underside is decorated with plain bone panels and a thick resinous coating. The interior is lined with green velvet, much worn. This unique and problematic box is difficult to place. The combination of both high and low quality elements (the lozenge-shaped intarsia work is particularly poor), the mixture of secular and religious imagery, the unusual techniques, and strange elements such as the ivory corbels combine to give the initial impression of an object of dubious authenticity. In its favour, on the other hand, is the likelihood that a forger would not have created such an unusual and original work. All the stylistic indicators, including the architectural canopies above the figures, point to a date in the first half of the fifteenth century. Broad similarities between the pierced foliate panels and the bone openwork panels of caskets such as cat. no. 240 might indicate the Upper Rhineland as a place of origin, although the comparison is too general to allow any certainty.

The ivory corbels are an odd feature, although they may be intended to evoke the projecting towers that can be seen on the upper parts of buildings of the fifteenth century; examples can be found across Europe, although the style seems to have originated in the Netherlands (such corbel towers can be seen in the early fifteenth-century ‘Nine Worthies’ tapestries now in New York, for which see Cavallo 1993, pp. 94–124, and Paris 2004, cat. no. 134). GD BIBLIO GR A PH Y Maskell 1872, pp. 33–34; Longhurst 1929, p. 69, pl. LX III.


501

[172] Casket Upper Rhenish or Eastern French (Alsace?); about 1420–50 Bone, ivory, horn and silk on a wooden carcase with gilt-copper fittings; h. not including handle 20.6 cm, w. 28.7 cm, d. 12.6 cm (reproduced 50%) Inv. no. 7660–1862 Purchased from John Webb, London, in 1862 (£100); according to William Maskell it was ‘said to have been found hidden in a recess of a wall, a few years ago, on the final demolition of a ruined chateau in France’ (Maskell 1872, p. 34). The wooden carcase is very simply made, the sides connected with mitred joints. The casket has warped over the years and does not close properly. Each face of the casket is covered with chequered patterns of bone and horn, and borders of carved strips of pierced bone, held in place by brass nails, with coloured strips of silk beneath. The silk fabrics alternate in colour, between green and a lighter colour, which is either a faded red or yellow. Each long side has two figurative plaques, while the short sides have one. The front of the casket depicts two wild men under elaborate canopies, that on the left shooting an arrow skywards, the other holding a club. Reading from left to right around the casket, the remaining figurative plaques depict St Catherine, a bearded figure holding a triangular object (tentatively identified by Longhurst as St Philip the Apostle), St Barbara and St Peter. Each of the figures has black dots of applied pigment to indicate their eyes. The borders of each face of the casket have applied plaques representing foliage and flowers. At each of the upper corners is an applied ivory corbel representing the head of a green man. The lid has two decorative plaques of flamboyant tracery designs. The hinges and handles are of copper-gilt. The lock plate has been removed, and the clasp that fitted into it has snapped off. The underside is decorated with plain bone panels and a thick resinous coating. The interior is lined with green velvet, much worn. This unique and problematic box is difficult to place. The combination of both high and low quality elements (the lozenge-shaped intarsia work is particularly poor), the mixture of secular and religious imagery, the unusual techniques, and strange elements such as the ivory corbels combine to give the initial impression of an object of dubious authenticity. In its favour, on the other hand, is the likelihood that a forger would not have created such an unusual and original work. All the stylistic indicators, including the architectural canopies above the figures, point to a date in the first half of the fifteenth century. Broad similarities between the pierced foliate panels and the bone openwork panels of caskets such as cat. no. 240 might indicate the Upper Rhineland as a place of origin, although the comparison is too general to allow any certainty.

The ivory corbels are an odd feature, although they may be intended to evoke the projecting towers that can be seen on the upper parts of buildings of the fifteenth century; examples can be found across Europe, although the style seems to have originated in the Netherlands (such corbel towers can be seen in the early fifteenth-century ‘Nine Worthies’ tapestries now in New York, for which see Cavallo 1993, pp. 94–124, and Paris 2004, cat. no. 134). GD BIBLIO GR A PH Y Maskell 1872, pp. 33–34; Longhurst 1929, p. 69, pl. LX III.


564

M I R ROR BACKS

[191] A Lady Crowning her Lover French (Paris); about 1300 Elephant ivory; h. 10.6 cm, w. 10.3 cm Inv. no. 217–1867 In the Préaux collection, Paris, by 1846 (Du Sommerard 1838–46, V, p. 110); Préaux sale, Paris, 10 January 1850, lot 148; Rattier collection, Paris (sale, Paris, 21–24 March 1859, lot 193); in the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 138); purchased from Webb in 1867 (£48). A lady crowns her lover, who kneels before her and offers his heart in covered hands. On the left a hooded groom raises his whip at their two horses, whose muzzles only protrude into the picture. The rim is decorated with four crawling monsters. There are substantial remains of gilding in the hair of both principal figures. On the reverse, the originally raised circle for a bayonet mount has been shaved down; the broad border

565

with a recess for the mirror is still extant, however, although it has been chamfered at the sides. The recessed centre has been incised with numerous cross-hatched lines, especially at the edges, presumably to hold a mirror in place. There are many flecks of vermilion paint around the border, and in addition to the South Kensington Museum label and inventory number, the number 138 has been written in pencil (for the 1862 exhibition) and scraps of paper remain. The mirror back has had three holes drilled through it around the kneeling lover, a further hole through the rim at the top centre, and a larger hole (which does not pierce the ivory) in the middle of the reverse; these are presumably post-medieval and may have been connected with the fitting of a later mirror. Koechlin catalogued four other mirror backs showing the single scene of a kneeling suitor being crowned by a lady, and another in Münster illustrates the action of the kneeling lover presenting his heart to the object of his desire, but none of these includes the horses and groom on the left (Koechlin

1924, II, cat. nos 996, 998–1001; for the Münster mirror back see also Arnhold 2001; for the Ravenna example see further Martini and Rizzardi 1990, cat. no. 17; cat. no. 1001 is now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, for which see Randall 1985, cat. no. 320). It has been proposed that the presence of the horses and the kneeling pose of the suitor, making his offering to the lady, should be seen as a secular translation of the iconography of the Adoration of the Magi, where the first king kneels before the Virgin and Child and the kings’ horses are shown being lashed with a whip by an attendant, although the latter feature is also seen on mirror backs without the offering of the heart (Blamires 1988, pp. 20–21; DetroitBaltimore 1997, pp. 226–27; see also Camille 1998, pp. 111–12 and Roy 2003, p. 237). This celebrated mirror back is one of the finest of the earlier examples, and has been linked by Danielle Gaborit-Chopin to two mirror backs in the Musée du Louvre, showing a game of chess and a hunting party (see most recently Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. nos 127–28). It is closer stylistically and technically, and in size, to the second piece, and there are compelling reasons – in the carving of specific details, for instance, such as the execution of the pupils of the eyes and the identical manner of carving the monsters around the rim – for seeing it as by the same hand. It is also perhaps not insignificant that both mirror backs have been trimmed in exactly the same manner on the reverse, with chamfers at the sides, indicating that they at least shared a post-medieval history and

may even have been physically associated (for the reverse of the Paris mirror back, now filled with a nineteenth-century metal mirror, see Gaborit-Chopin 2003, fig. on p. 354; it was previously in the Sauvageot collection and was given to the Louvre in 1856, so must have been on the Paris art market at about the same time as the V&A mirror case). The presence of the two horses on the V&A mirror back would also support such a pairing, as the crowning of the suitor might naturally follow the scene of the mounted hunting party on the other side (see Blamires 1988, p. 19). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Du Sommerard 1838–46, V, p. 110, Album, 5th series, pl. X I,3; Maskell 1872, pp. 82–83; Koechlin 1924, I, p. 378, II, cat. no. 1002, III, pl. CLX X V I; Longhurst 1929, pp. 44–45, pl. X LII; Grodecki 1947, p. 116; Gaborit-Chopin 1978, pp. 148, 207, fig. 219; Paris 1981–82, p. 171 (D. Gaborit-Chopin); Williamson 1982, p. 44, pl. 27; Blamires 1988, pp. 18–21, fig. 2; Camille 1989, pp. 308–10, fig. 167; Campbell 1995, pp. 14–15, fig. 6; Camille 1998, pp. 111–12, fig. 97; Arnhold 2001, p. 1, fig. 1; Gaborit-Chopin 2003, pp. 352, 354, fig. 128a; Roy 2003, p. 237, fig. 4; Carns 2009, p. 84; Gaborit-Chopin 2011, p. 173, fig. 16. EX HIBITED London 1862, cat. no. 138; Ottawa 1972, cat. no. 76, pl. 101 (P. Verdier); Detroit-Baltimore 1997, cat. no. 55 (P. Williamson); Paris 1998, cat. no. 96 (D. Gaborit-Chopin).


564

M I R ROR BACKS

[191] A Lady Crowning her Lover French (Paris); about 1300 Elephant ivory; h. 10.6 cm, w. 10.3 cm Inv. no. 217–1867 In the Préaux collection, Paris, by 1846 (Du Sommerard 1838–46, V, p. 110); Préaux sale, Paris, 10 January 1850, lot 148; Rattier collection, Paris (sale, Paris, 21–24 March 1859, lot 193); in the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 138); purchased from Webb in 1867 (£48). A lady crowns her lover, who kneels before her and offers his heart in covered hands. On the left a hooded groom raises his whip at their two horses, whose muzzles only protrude into the picture. The rim is decorated with four crawling monsters. There are substantial remains of gilding in the hair of both principal figures. On the reverse, the originally raised circle for a bayonet mount has been shaved down; the broad border

565

with a recess for the mirror is still extant, however, although it has been chamfered at the sides. The recessed centre has been incised with numerous cross-hatched lines, especially at the edges, presumably to hold a mirror in place. There are many flecks of vermilion paint around the border, and in addition to the South Kensington Museum label and inventory number, the number 138 has been written in pencil (for the 1862 exhibition) and scraps of paper remain. The mirror back has had three holes drilled through it around the kneeling lover, a further hole through the rim at the top centre, and a larger hole (which does not pierce the ivory) in the middle of the reverse; these are presumably post-medieval and may have been connected with the fitting of a later mirror. Koechlin catalogued four other mirror backs showing the single scene of a kneeling suitor being crowned by a lady, and another in Münster illustrates the action of the kneeling lover presenting his heart to the object of his desire, but none of these includes the horses and groom on the left (Koechlin

1924, II, cat. nos 996, 998–1001; for the Münster mirror back see also Arnhold 2001; for the Ravenna example see further Martini and Rizzardi 1990, cat. no. 17; cat. no. 1001 is now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, for which see Randall 1985, cat. no. 320). It has been proposed that the presence of the horses and the kneeling pose of the suitor, making his offering to the lady, should be seen as a secular translation of the iconography of the Adoration of the Magi, where the first king kneels before the Virgin and Child and the kings’ horses are shown being lashed with a whip by an attendant, although the latter feature is also seen on mirror backs without the offering of the heart (Blamires 1988, pp. 20–21; DetroitBaltimore 1997, pp. 226–27; see also Camille 1998, pp. 111–12 and Roy 2003, p. 237). This celebrated mirror back is one of the finest of the earlier examples, and has been linked by Danielle Gaborit-Chopin to two mirror backs in the Musée du Louvre, showing a game of chess and a hunting party (see most recently Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. nos 127–28). It is closer stylistically and technically, and in size, to the second piece, and there are compelling reasons – in the carving of specific details, for instance, such as the execution of the pupils of the eyes and the identical manner of carving the monsters around the rim – for seeing it as by the same hand. It is also perhaps not insignificant that both mirror backs have been trimmed in exactly the same manner on the reverse, with chamfers at the sides, indicating that they at least shared a post-medieval history and

may even have been physically associated (for the reverse of the Paris mirror back, now filled with a nineteenth-century metal mirror, see Gaborit-Chopin 2003, fig. on p. 354; it was previously in the Sauvageot collection and was given to the Louvre in 1856, so must have been on the Paris art market at about the same time as the V&A mirror case). The presence of the two horses on the V&A mirror back would also support such a pairing, as the crowning of the suitor might naturally follow the scene of the mounted hunting party on the other side (see Blamires 1988, p. 19). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Du Sommerard 1838–46, V, p. 110, Album, 5th series, pl. X I,3; Maskell 1872, pp. 82–83; Koechlin 1924, I, p. 378, II, cat. no. 1002, III, pl. CLX X V I; Longhurst 1929, pp. 44–45, pl. X LII; Grodecki 1947, p. 116; Gaborit-Chopin 1978, pp. 148, 207, fig. 219; Paris 1981–82, p. 171 (D. Gaborit-Chopin); Williamson 1982, p. 44, pl. 27; Blamires 1988, pp. 18–21, fig. 2; Camille 1989, pp. 308–10, fig. 167; Campbell 1995, pp. 14–15, fig. 6; Camille 1998, pp. 111–12, fig. 97; Arnhold 2001, p. 1, fig. 1; Gaborit-Chopin 2003, pp. 352, 354, fig. 128a; Roy 2003, p. 237, fig. 4; Carns 2009, p. 84; Gaborit-Chopin 2011, p. 173, fig. 16. EX HIBITED London 1862, cat. no. 138; Ottawa 1972, cat. no. 76, pl. 101 (P. Verdier); Detroit-Baltimore 1997, cat. no. 55 (P. Williamson); Paris 1998, cat. no. 96 (D. Gaborit-Chopin).


591

[203] The Attack on the Castle of Love French (Paris); second quarter of the fourteenth century Elephant ivory; h. 13.5 cm, w. 12.9 cm Inv. no. 9–1872 When illustrated by Du Sommerard in 1838–46, the mirror back was in the Préaux collection in Paris, and is described in the Préaux sale catalogue (Paris, 9–11 January 1850, lot 147, bought Rarent): ‘Beau bas-relief de forme ronde, provenant d’une boîte à miroir du XI Ve siècle, il représente l’attaque du château d’Amour par des chevaliers couverts d’armures en usage alors; sujet tiré du Roman de la Rose, de Jean de Meung’; collection of Prince Petr Soltykoff, Paris, until 1861; Soltykoff sale (Soltykoff 1861, lot 355); collection of Henry Farrer, London; Farrer sale, Christie’s, London, 13 June 1866, lot 328; on loan to the Museum from 1867 and purchased from John Webb, London, in 1872 (£110). At the centre of the composition is a three-tiered tower-like castle, with portcullis partly open, before which five mounted and armoured knights, divided into two groups, confront one another for the attentions of the ladies above. The four maidens hurl roses down at the knights, while two trumpeters at the sides blow fanfares while perched on the branch of a tree (the latter figures, rare in this context, are repeated in a recently acquired mirror back in the Duclaux collection in Angers: see Angers 2011, cat. no. 33). At the top of the castle the winged God of Love takes aim with his bow, and has already pierced with an arrow the right eye of one of the knights below, who has lifted his helmet to look upwards towards the ladies. Four lions crouch around the rim; those at the upper left and lower right are restorations (apparently from before 1838–46, as they are included in Du Sommerard’s plate), made from separate pieces of ivory attached to the remains of the originals (of which only parts of the paws and the tips of the tails survive). On the reverse there is a raised and bevelled inner rim set back from the edge; this has been broken at top and bottom, and it is likely that there was formerly a flange in the area of the upper break to secure the mirror back to its matching disc. The deep edge of the mirror back is angled from front to back to form a channel, and in the centre at the top is a carved rosette with a hole at its centre, perhaps to hold a hook or clasp. Three further holes in the centres of the sides and at the bottom (the last now filled with plaster) may have had the same function (see below). The back of the rim has been stained a dark brown, probably by oil, and at the top of the plain border on the front, above the head of the God of Love, there is a small chip. A long vertical dirt-filled crack runs up to the centre of the disc from the bottom edge.

The attack on the Castle of Love was one of the most popular images of l’amour courtois in the first half of the fourteenth century (see the still-classic study of Loomis 1919; Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 403–10; and Timothy Husband’s admirable brief account in New York 1980–81, pp. 71–74). The Castle of Love is an allegorical representation of the heart of the lady, to be conquered only after a trial of determination, courage and strength, and the image was thus particularly appropriate for the decoration of the accoutrements of beauty and grooming, such as ivory mirror cases and jewel or marriage caskets (see cat. no. 227 and Carns 2005, pp. 82–83). Koechlin catalogued no fewer than 27 mirror backs with this subject, including eight with the God of Love present, as here (Koechlin 1924, II, cat. nos 1092–99). A virtually identical mirror back is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence (ibid., cat. no. 1093; see now Chiesi 2011, cat. no. 17). Stylistically and technically this mirror back – of the highest quality – is very close to the following example (cat. no. 204) and one in the Musée du Louvre in Paris (Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. no. 189). Indeed, the extremely refined undercutting of the figures, the treatment of fine detail, the animated poses, the dramatic compositions, and the unusual choice of lions rather than the more common monsters on the rims seen in all three pieces are not the only factors linking their production. Both the Louvre mirror back and the present example (but not cat. no. 204) have precisely the same thick channelled edges and a carved rosette with hole in the centre of the top edge (ibid., fig. on p. 438, but note that the case has been turned on its


591

[203] The Attack on the Castle of Love French (Paris); second quarter of the fourteenth century Elephant ivory; h. 13.5 cm, w. 12.9 cm Inv. no. 9–1872 When illustrated by Du Sommerard in 1838–46, the mirror back was in the Préaux collection in Paris, and is described in the Préaux sale catalogue (Paris, 9–11 January 1850, lot 147, bought Rarent): ‘Beau bas-relief de forme ronde, provenant d’une boîte à miroir du XI Ve siècle, il représente l’attaque du château d’Amour par des chevaliers couverts d’armures en usage alors; sujet tiré du Roman de la Rose, de Jean de Meung’; collection of Prince Petr Soltykoff, Paris, until 1861; Soltykoff sale (Soltykoff 1861, lot 355); collection of Henry Farrer, London; Farrer sale, Christie’s, London, 13 June 1866, lot 328; on loan to the Museum from 1867 and purchased from John Webb, London, in 1872 (£110). At the centre of the composition is a three-tiered tower-like castle, with portcullis partly open, before which five mounted and armoured knights, divided into two groups, confront one another for the attentions of the ladies above. The four maidens hurl roses down at the knights, while two trumpeters at the sides blow fanfares while perched on the branch of a tree (the latter figures, rare in this context, are repeated in a recently acquired mirror back in the Duclaux collection in Angers: see Angers 2011, cat. no. 33). At the top of the castle the winged God of Love takes aim with his bow, and has already pierced with an arrow the right eye of one of the knights below, who has lifted his helmet to look upwards towards the ladies. Four lions crouch around the rim; those at the upper left and lower right are restorations (apparently from before 1838–46, as they are included in Du Sommerard’s plate), made from separate pieces of ivory attached to the remains of the originals (of which only parts of the paws and the tips of the tails survive). On the reverse there is a raised and bevelled inner rim set back from the edge; this has been broken at top and bottom, and it is likely that there was formerly a flange in the area of the upper break to secure the mirror back to its matching disc. The deep edge of the mirror back is angled from front to back to form a channel, and in the centre at the top is a carved rosette with a hole at its centre, perhaps to hold a hook or clasp. Three further holes in the centres of the sides and at the bottom (the last now filled with plaster) may have had the same function (see below). The back of the rim has been stained a dark brown, probably by oil, and at the top of the plain border on the front, above the head of the God of Love, there is a small chip. A long vertical dirt-filled crack runs up to the centre of the disc from the bottom edge.

The attack on the Castle of Love was one of the most popular images of l’amour courtois in the first half of the fourteenth century (see the still-classic study of Loomis 1919; Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 403–10; and Timothy Husband’s admirable brief account in New York 1980–81, pp. 71–74). The Castle of Love is an allegorical representation of the heart of the lady, to be conquered only after a trial of determination, courage and strength, and the image was thus particularly appropriate for the decoration of the accoutrements of beauty and grooming, such as ivory mirror cases and jewel or marriage caskets (see cat. no. 227 and Carns 2005, pp. 82–83). Koechlin catalogued no fewer than 27 mirror backs with this subject, including eight with the God of Love present, as here (Koechlin 1924, II, cat. nos 1092–99). A virtually identical mirror back is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence (ibid., cat. no. 1093; see now Chiesi 2011, cat. no. 17). Stylistically and technically this mirror back – of the highest quality – is very close to the following example (cat. no. 204) and one in the Musée du Louvre in Paris (Gaborit-Chopin 2003, cat. no. 189). Indeed, the extremely refined undercutting of the figures, the treatment of fine detail, the animated poses, the dramatic compositions, and the unusual choice of lions rather than the more common monsters on the rims seen in all three pieces are not the only factors linking their production. Both the Louvre mirror back and the present example (but not cat. no. 204) have precisely the same thick channelled edges and a carved rosette with hole in the centre of the top edge (ibid., fig. on p. 438, but note that the case has been turned on its


609

Combs The comb has since Antiquity been a fundamental tool for personal grooming, used both by men and women (fig. 1). Before the thirteenth century combs for private, rather than ecclesiastical, use were invariably plain, and carved ivory was almost exclusively used for liturgical combs, some of which were embellished with narrative scenes: a splendid English twelfth-century example is in the V&A collection (Williamson 2010, cat. no. 97). In the Gothic period, however, ivory was often employed for the production of deluxe decorated combs; and as we have seen on p. 562 these were often sold with mirror backs and gravoirs and presented in leather cases (fig. 2). The comb-makers of Paris (pigniers) seem to have been at the centre of this trade for all three items, and there are numerous documentary accounts of them supplying these toilet cases to aristocratic clients (Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 532–33, 534, 536–37, 538–39). In Italy, ivory combs were made for the Medici in Florence, including Cosimo the Elder (1389–1464), Lorenzo di Giovanni (1395–1440) and Piero il Gottoso (1416– 69) (Schmidt 2012, p. 19). The Gothic comb is always carved on both faces and consists of two registers of teeth, one fine, the other broader, above and below the narrative strips. There appears to have been no hard-and-fast rule about the relative positions of the different rows of teeth; as will be seen from a cursory inspection of the examples in the Museum’s collection, the fine teeth are

FIG. 1. A lady with comb, attended to by her maid with a mirror; English, c.1325–35; the Luttrell Psalter (British Library, London, Add. MS 42130, fol. 63r)

FIG. 2. Leather carrying-case for a mirror, comb and gravoir; French, late fourteenth century; h. 17.5 cm, w. 14.5 cm (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, inv. no. CA. T.1602)

sometimes on the top, sometimes on the bottom of the comb. The carved scenes between the two sets of teeth were recessed in a horizontal band, and in the later examples foliate designs filled the side panels. Compared with the large number of surviving French fourteenth-century mirror backs there are surprisingly few combs of this period and place, and the V&A only possesses one example (cat. no. 209). This might be because combs were more vulnerable to breakage and disposal than mirror backs, and it is of interest that most of the existing pieces from 1300–1550 are in excellent – in some cases pristine – condition, suggesting that they owe their survival to being kept in their cases or put aside. They may have been presented as gifts but seem not to have been used, perhaps being considered by the recipients as too precious to put at risk. The numbers increase after the end of the fourteenth century, and of these later pieces many are Italian or Netherlandish rather than French. As with the mirror backs, most of the scenes found on the combs are connected with romance and courtship. Hardly surprisingly, the subject matter often celebrates the power of beauty, such as the stories of David and Bathsheba and the Judgement of Paris, and its transforming effect, as in the Fountain of Youth (cat. nos 215, 218–19). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 423–31, II, cat. nos 1147–60, III, pls CXCI–CXCI V; Gay 1928, pp. 217–18; Saviello 2012.


609

Combs The comb has since Antiquity been a fundamental tool for personal grooming, used both by men and women (fig. 1). Before the thirteenth century combs for private, rather than ecclesiastical, use were invariably plain, and carved ivory was almost exclusively used for liturgical combs, some of which were embellished with narrative scenes: a splendid English twelfth-century example is in the V&A collection (Williamson 2010, cat. no. 97). In the Gothic period, however, ivory was often employed for the production of deluxe decorated combs; and as we have seen on p. 562 these were often sold with mirror backs and gravoirs and presented in leather cases (fig. 2). The comb-makers of Paris (pigniers) seem to have been at the centre of this trade for all three items, and there are numerous documentary accounts of them supplying these toilet cases to aristocratic clients (Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 532–33, 534, 536–37, 538–39). In Italy, ivory combs were made for the Medici in Florence, including Cosimo the Elder (1389–1464), Lorenzo di Giovanni (1395–1440) and Piero il Gottoso (1416– 69) (Schmidt 2012, p. 19). The Gothic comb is always carved on both faces and consists of two registers of teeth, one fine, the other broader, above and below the narrative strips. There appears to have been no hard-and-fast rule about the relative positions of the different rows of teeth; as will be seen from a cursory inspection of the examples in the Museum’s collection, the fine teeth are

FIG. 1. A lady with comb, attended to by her maid with a mirror; English, c.1325–35; the Luttrell Psalter (British Library, London, Add. MS 42130, fol. 63r)

FIG. 2. Leather carrying-case for a mirror, comb and gravoir; French, late fourteenth century; h. 17.5 cm, w. 14.5 cm (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, inv. no. CA. T.1602)

sometimes on the top, sometimes on the bottom of the comb. The carved scenes between the two sets of teeth were recessed in a horizontal band, and in the later examples foliate designs filled the side panels. Compared with the large number of surviving French fourteenth-century mirror backs there are surprisingly few combs of this period and place, and the V&A only possesses one example (cat. no. 209). This might be because combs were more vulnerable to breakage and disposal than mirror backs, and it is of interest that most of the existing pieces from 1300–1550 are in excellent – in some cases pristine – condition, suggesting that they owe their survival to being kept in their cases or put aside. They may have been presented as gifts but seem not to have been used, perhaps being considered by the recipients as too precious to put at risk. The numbers increase after the end of the fourteenth century, and of these later pieces many are Italian or Netherlandish rather than French. As with the mirror backs, most of the scenes found on the combs are connected with romance and courtship. Hardly surprisingly, the subject matter often celebrates the power of beauty, such as the stories of David and Bathsheba and the Judgement of Paris, and its transforming effect, as in the Fountain of Youth (cat. nos 215, 218–19). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Koechlin 1924, I, pp. 423–31, II, cat. nos 1147–60, III, pls CXCI–CXCI V; Gay 1928, pp. 217–18; Saviello 2012.


Secular Writing Tablets


Secular Writing Tablets


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M ISCELL A N EOUS R ELIFS A N D VA R I A

lately in the possession of a noble English family.’ (Maskell 1872, p. ci). It is divided longitudinally in the same way and the decorative vocabulary, with numerous figures and animals amongst lush foliage, including scenes of hunting, is very close (although the Zagreb horn also includes apes: see Topic´Mimara 1990, fig. 10). The V&A horn is certainly the grander of the two, with a more ambitious and varied decorative scheme and with an unmatched level of technical accomplishment in such features as the integrally-carved suspension loops and the recurring device of figures emerging from or entering holes in the surface of the ivory. It is significant that the present horn is embellished with four crowns on the uppermost curving band, near the mouthpiece, suggesting that it was a royal or aristocratic commission. The parallels drawn by Topic´-Mersmann with English manuscripts of the first half of the fourteenth century, such as the Ormesby Psalter, Queen Mary’s Psalter and the Luttrell Psalter, with misericords at Ely and Chester and with the wood Warwick gittern or citole at the British Museum, were well made, and further English monuments – such as the relief carvings of the Winchester Cathedral choirstalls (Tracy 1987, pp. 16–24; Tracy 1993) – can also be brought forward in support of an English origin. The imagery of the two horns, replete with the ‘babewyns’ so popular in

745

English manuscripts and other works of art in the fourteenth century (Stone 1955, pp. 150–51), is also indicative; although some of the costume details, such as the dagged hems of the hunters’ hoods and especially the soft cap on one of the figures on the V&A horn suggest a date at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The use of walrus ivory and the English provenance of the Zagreb horn lend further weight to an insular production, and the radiocarbon date obtained for the raw material also supports placing the carving of the V&A horn in the years around 1400. It fits comfortably into the international courtly environment of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, exemplified by such books as Gaston Phébus’s Le Livre de la chasse (see Paris 2004, cat. no. 139, esp. fig. on p. 234). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Du Sommerard 1838–46, II, pl. X X X V I; Maskell 1872, pp. ci, 36–37; Maskell 1875, p. 113, ill.; Gay 1887, fig. on p. 423; Molinier 1896, p. 197, note 3 (confuses with Zagreb horn); Maskell 1905, p. 243, pl. LI; Longhurst 1929, p. 88, fig. 6; Tardy 1966, p. 140, ill.; Topic´-Mersmann 1990, passim, figs 4–5, 14. EX HIBITED Munich 1876, cat. no. 549.


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M ISCELL A N EOUS R ELIFS A N D VA R I A

lately in the possession of a noble English family.’ (Maskell 1872, p. ci). It is divided longitudinally in the same way and the decorative vocabulary, with numerous figures and animals amongst lush foliage, including scenes of hunting, is very close (although the Zagreb horn also includes apes: see Topic´Mimara 1990, fig. 10). The V&A horn is certainly the grander of the two, with a more ambitious and varied decorative scheme and with an unmatched level of technical accomplishment in such features as the integrally-carved suspension loops and the recurring device of figures emerging from or entering holes in the surface of the ivory. It is significant that the present horn is embellished with four crowns on the uppermost curving band, near the mouthpiece, suggesting that it was a royal or aristocratic commission. The parallels drawn by Topic´-Mersmann with English manuscripts of the first half of the fourteenth century, such as the Ormesby Psalter, Queen Mary’s Psalter and the Luttrell Psalter, with misericords at Ely and Chester and with the wood Warwick gittern or citole at the British Museum, were well made, and further English monuments – such as the relief carvings of the Winchester Cathedral choirstalls (Tracy 1987, pp. 16–24; Tracy 1993) – can also be brought forward in support of an English origin. The imagery of the two horns, replete with the ‘babewyns’ so popular in

745

English manuscripts and other works of art in the fourteenth century (Stone 1955, pp. 150–51), is also indicative; although some of the costume details, such as the dagged hems of the hunters’ hoods and especially the soft cap on one of the figures on the V&A horn suggest a date at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The use of walrus ivory and the English provenance of the Zagreb horn lend further weight to an insular production, and the radiocarbon date obtained for the raw material also supports placing the carving of the V&A horn in the years around 1400. It fits comfortably into the international courtly environment of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, exemplified by such books as Gaston Phébus’s Le Livre de la chasse (see Paris 2004, cat. no. 139, esp. fig. on p. 234). PW BIBLIO GR A PH Y Du Sommerard 1838–46, II, pl. X X X V I; Maskell 1872, pp. ci, 36–37; Maskell 1875, p. 113, ill.; Gay 1887, fig. on p. 423; Molinier 1896, p. 197, note 3 (confuses with Zagreb horn); Maskell 1905, p. 243, pl. LI; Longhurst 1929, p. 88, fig. 6; Tardy 1966, p. 140, ill.; Topic´-Mersmann 1990, passim, figs 4–5, 14. EX HIBITED Munich 1876, cat. no. 549.


819

[268] Hexagonal Casket with the Story of Pyramus and Thisbe Workshop of Baldassare Ubriachi Italian (Florence or Venice); about 1390–1410 Bone, horn and intarsia on a wood base; h. 30.5 cm, w. 28 cm, h. of narrative plaques 9.1 cm (reproduced 78%) Inv. no. 5624–1859 In the collection of Jules Soulages, Paris and Toulouse (probably acquired by him in Italy in 1830–40: see Robinson 1856, p. iii); bought together with the rest of the Soulages collection in 1856 by a subscription committee and then purchased by the Museum in 1859 (£15). The casket is decorated around the sides with a continuous frieze of bone panels. The lid rises steeply to a finial or pinnacle, the top of which is plugged and which must once have had a metal attachment, possibly a ring, inserted here. The underside of the casket is painted red, and there is no sign that it ever had feet. Attached to the base is a label, which reads ‘SOU L AGES No. 304’, and there are traces of another label, now removed. The casket no longer opens. The intarsia, which is formed of several friezes running in bands around the carcase and lid, is made in the typical Embriachi manner, with prefabricated strips. In the lower border beneath the narrative scenes, the prefabricated intarsia ribbons were not long enough, and so each face is formed from two unequal sections. The narrative frieze, which tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, is divided into six scenes by corner panels representing standing male figures with clubs and shields. Each scene comprises three plaques. The upper area of the carcase behind the plaques has been painted blue, visible through those plaques that are pierced. Unusually, the narrative does not begin on the casket’s front face, a peculiarity which is discussed below. Scene 1 shows Thisbe with her mother and Pyramus with his father following two men, one of whom wears a toga-like garment; the two children carry writing slates. Scene 2 depicts the two children walking arm in arm behind their tutors; in the third panel of this scene, Pyramus is taught by a tutor pointing to an open book. In scene 3, the lovers whisper through the crack in the wall; the tension is heightened through the proximity of Thisbe’s parents (who converse with one another), and a servant or nurse holding a distaff. Scene 4 shows Pyramus setting out to meet Thisbe with his possessions in a scarf hanging from his sword, carried casually over his shoulder; ahead, Thisbe runs from the lioness, which is pawing a bloody scarf near a well. Scene 5 shows Pyramus waiting alone at the well; he then falls on his sword, as the lioness walks off. Finally, in scene 6 Thisbe mourns over Pyramus’s body, before

falling on the sword; to the right, a stag watches the scene. The carved plaques of the lid represent naked winged boys amongst leaves, who catch at each other and wrestle; the plaque above the lock depicts two amorini holding blank shields. The shields are pierced at top and bottom, as on several other caskets, probably for fixing metal heraldic plaques. A photograph of the casket published by Alfred Maskell in 1905 (and subsequently, with further views, by Longhurst in 1929), shows that its current state is the result of some restoration, although there is no record of this in the Museum archives. In the older photograph, the upper border of the casket, and the lower part of the lid, are badly damaged, as is the casket’s lower border; by contrast, the casket now appears almost complete. The horn upper moulding of the main carcase has been repaired in numerous places, most notably around the area of the new hinges. The odd projecting panels of the lid’s lower border, as well as the ebony facing between them, seem to be entirely modern. This is also true of the ebony-faced lower moulding of the carcase, and the projecting moulding around the finial. The intarsia patterns have been carefully repaired in places, for example in the area above the stag in scene 6, and on the corner of the lid immediately above. The narrative panels around the lock plate have been damaged and repaired with glue. The photograph also reveals that the plain bone panels beneath the narrative scenes were once partly painted, probably with inscriptions, although no trace remains of this decoration. The scenes are each composed of three plaques, but the width of each plaque varies widely; this means that the scenes must have been carved in groups of three to ensure that they would fit. It also indicates that the plaques retain their original order on the casket. The fact that the lock hole is integral to scene 5, and the blank shields are above this face, further confirms that the casket has been designed to emphasize the moment in the story where Pyramus kills himself. Other Embriachi caskets habitually begin their stories on the front face. Indeed, another hexagonal Pyramus and Thisbe casket, sold in London in 1994, followed this pattern, as the lock hole within the first scene in the story’s sequence confirms (Sotheby’s, London, 8 December 1994, lot 13). The story of Pyramus and Thisbe was a popular choice on caskets of this sort, and appears on octagonal, hexagonal and rectangular examples in Bologna, Paris, Vienna, Milan and elsewhere (Pincelli 1959, cat. no. 115; Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, inv. no. 330; Schlosser 1899, p. 264, fig. 25; Merlini 1988, fig. 3). The source for the Embriachi depiction of the story has been the subject of some debate: von Schlosser, basing his argument on the notion that the source must have been a popular one, suggested a mid-fourteenthcentury French fabliau (Schlosser 1899, p. 263). The most notable peculiarity in the way the story is depicted by the


819

[268] Hexagonal Casket with the Story of Pyramus and Thisbe Workshop of Baldassare Ubriachi Italian (Florence or Venice); about 1390–1410 Bone, horn and intarsia on a wood base; h. 30.5 cm, w. 28 cm, h. of narrative plaques 9.1 cm (reproduced 78%) Inv. no. 5624–1859 In the collection of Jules Soulages, Paris and Toulouse (probably acquired by him in Italy in 1830–40: see Robinson 1856, p. iii); bought together with the rest of the Soulages collection in 1856 by a subscription committee and then purchased by the Museum in 1859 (£15). The casket is decorated around the sides with a continuous frieze of bone panels. The lid rises steeply to a finial or pinnacle, the top of which is plugged and which must once have had a metal attachment, possibly a ring, inserted here. The underside of the casket is painted red, and there is no sign that it ever had feet. Attached to the base is a label, which reads ‘SOU L AGES No. 304’, and there are traces of another label, now removed. The casket no longer opens. The intarsia, which is formed of several friezes running in bands around the carcase and lid, is made in the typical Embriachi manner, with prefabricated strips. In the lower border beneath the narrative scenes, the prefabricated intarsia ribbons were not long enough, and so each face is formed from two unequal sections. The narrative frieze, which tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, is divided into six scenes by corner panels representing standing male figures with clubs and shields. Each scene comprises three plaques. The upper area of the carcase behind the plaques has been painted blue, visible through those plaques that are pierced. Unusually, the narrative does not begin on the casket’s front face, a peculiarity which is discussed below. Scene 1 shows Thisbe with her mother and Pyramus with his father following two men, one of whom wears a toga-like garment; the two children carry writing slates. Scene 2 depicts the two children walking arm in arm behind their tutors; in the third panel of this scene, Pyramus is taught by a tutor pointing to an open book. In scene 3, the lovers whisper through the crack in the wall; the tension is heightened through the proximity of Thisbe’s parents (who converse with one another), and a servant or nurse holding a distaff. Scene 4 shows Pyramus setting out to meet Thisbe with his possessions in a scarf hanging from his sword, carried casually over his shoulder; ahead, Thisbe runs from the lioness, which is pawing a bloody scarf near a well. Scene 5 shows Pyramus waiting alone at the well; he then falls on his sword, as the lioness walks off. Finally, in scene 6 Thisbe mourns over Pyramus’s body, before

falling on the sword; to the right, a stag watches the scene. The carved plaques of the lid represent naked winged boys amongst leaves, who catch at each other and wrestle; the plaque above the lock depicts two amorini holding blank shields. The shields are pierced at top and bottom, as on several other caskets, probably for fixing metal heraldic plaques. A photograph of the casket published by Alfred Maskell in 1905 (and subsequently, with further views, by Longhurst in 1929), shows that its current state is the result of some restoration, although there is no record of this in the Museum archives. In the older photograph, the upper border of the casket, and the lower part of the lid, are badly damaged, as is the casket’s lower border; by contrast, the casket now appears almost complete. The horn upper moulding of the main carcase has been repaired in numerous places, most notably around the area of the new hinges. The odd projecting panels of the lid’s lower border, as well as the ebony facing between them, seem to be entirely modern. This is also true of the ebony-faced lower moulding of the carcase, and the projecting moulding around the finial. The intarsia patterns have been carefully repaired in places, for example in the area above the stag in scene 6, and on the corner of the lid immediately above. The narrative panels around the lock plate have been damaged and repaired with glue. The photograph also reveals that the plain bone panels beneath the narrative scenes were once partly painted, probably with inscriptions, although no trace remains of this decoration. The scenes are each composed of three plaques, but the width of each plaque varies widely; this means that the scenes must have been carved in groups of three to ensure that they would fit. It also indicates that the plaques retain their original order on the casket. The fact that the lock hole is integral to scene 5, and the blank shields are above this face, further confirms that the casket has been designed to emphasize the moment in the story where Pyramus kills himself. Other Embriachi caskets habitually begin their stories on the front face. Indeed, another hexagonal Pyramus and Thisbe casket, sold in London in 1994, followed this pattern, as the lock hole within the first scene in the story’s sequence confirms (Sotheby’s, London, 8 December 1994, lot 13). The story of Pyramus and Thisbe was a popular choice on caskets of this sort, and appears on octagonal, hexagonal and rectangular examples in Bologna, Paris, Vienna, Milan and elsewhere (Pincelli 1959, cat. no. 115; Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, inv. no. 330; Schlosser 1899, p. 264, fig. 25; Merlini 1988, fig. 3). The source for the Embriachi depiction of the story has been the subject of some debate: von Schlosser, basing his argument on the notion that the source must have been a popular one, suggested a mid-fourteenthcentury French fabliau (Schlosser 1899, p. 263). The most notable peculiarity in the way the story is depicted by the


medieval1200–1550 ivory carvings part 11 paul wi ll iamson and glyn davies

victoria  and albert  museum


MEDIEVAL IVORY CARVINGS 1200–1550  

The V&A’s collection of ivory carvings from the period 1200 to 1550 is one of the most important in the world, and this is the first catalog...

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