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Mirror case - David's message to Bathsheba

David's message to Bathsheba

  • Object:

    Mirror case

  • Place of origin:

    France (probably France or Netherlands, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1520-1530 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This ivory mirror case is carved by an unknown artist, probably in France or the Netherlands, in about 1520-30 and depicts David's message to Bathsheba.

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite and daughter of Eliam, a soldier in King David's army. She was very beautiful and once while bathing caught David's fency. He took her to his palace, where he made love to her. And she later became pregnant by him. David arranged that Uriah should battle at the forefront so that he would be killed easier. David later married Bathsheba.

Ivory combs, together with mirror cases and gravoirs for parting the hair, formed an essential part of the trousse de toilette or étui (dressing case) of the typical wealthy lady or gentleman in the Gothic period.

Gothic ivory mirror backs survive in considerable numbers. The ivory cases themselves, usually between 8 and 14 cm in diameter, consisted of two paired ivory discs (described here as ‘mirror backs’), often with four crawling monsters or lions (or leaves) carved around the outer edge. These ornamental features would transform the circle into a square and make the opening of the case easier, although their vulnerability to breakage is now all too evident.
The majority of the ivory mirror cases and their leather boxes must have been purchased as expensive gifts, to be presented by the wealthy élite to their friends, family and lovers, and often as wedding presents. The subject matter of the mirror backs was almost exclusively secular.

Physical description

Circular carved ivory mirror case, decorated with a scene depicting David's message to Bathsheba. The king looks from a window in the background. The border is decorated with vine scrolls. The background is hatched. The border and central panel are of two separate pieces.
In the foreground the semi-naked Bathsheba, bathing at the fountain, is approched by David's bearded messenger, who passes the king's note to her. David is shown looking out from his battlemented palace behind, in anticipation of her acceptance of his adulterous invitation.

Place of Origin

France (probably France or Netherlands, made)


ca. 1520-1530 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Diameter: 12.7 cm, Diameter: 8.9 cm diameter of inner disc

Object history note

In the collection of Ralph Bernal, MP (1783-1854), London; purchased at the Bernal sale, Christie & Manson, London, 21 March 1855, lot 1631 (£5 5s).

Descriptive line

Mirror case, crcular carved ivory, depicting David's message to Bathsheba, probably France or Netherlands, about 1520-1530

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1855. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 67
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 86
Kuhn, Dr. Katalog für die Ausstellung der Werke älterer Meister. Part II: Katalog der Kunst und Kunstindustrie-Ausstellung alter und neuer deutscher Meister. Munich, Glaspalast, 1876, cat.no. 563
p. 6
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, p. 414
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 604-605
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part II, pp. 604-605, cat. no. 208



Subjects depicted

Subject; Man; Castle


Sculpture; Accessories


Sculpture Collection

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