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Casket

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (South , made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1440-1470 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood overlaid with carved and tinted bone, pigment and gilding

  • Museum number:

    4660-1859

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This casket made by an unknown artist in the South Netherlands in about 1440-1470. It is decorated with plaques with dancers and minstrels.
This casket is one of a large number of surviving caskets that share similar facture and a limited number of themes.
In the past, the group has been attributed widely to Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands, although the last is preferred by most recent authorities. Paula Nutall meticulously explored the iconography of this casket, and concluded that the images refer to love, sex, and fertility, strongly suggesting that caskets of this sort played a role in formalized marriage negotiations. In addition, she challenged the practicality of such caskets' undersides being used as a games board, proposing that the reference to chess is, if anything, symbolic (Nutall 2010, pp. 133-41).

6747-1860 is an almost exact copy. Examples of these caskets are in most collections. Koechlin argued that these caskets were produced under Italian influence in the court circle of Charles VI.

From about 1320 onwards, ivory caskets featuring secular subject matter began to be produced in substantial numbers, often sharing the imagery to be found on mirror backs. Some of the earlier examples are also some of the grandest, and must have been aimed at a wealthy clientele. The nature of the subject matter, which almost always concentrates on courtly love, chivalry and romance, indicates that the caskets were used for the exchange of courtship and wedding gifts. The most important type among the early caskets was what has become known as the ‘composite’ casket, illustrating more than one secular tale. This group of large and impressive caskets, of which at least eight examples survive, illustrate a variety of secular tales and themes. The primary function was not to stimulate memories of the viewers, but to delight and entertain.

Physical description

The casket has a wooden carcase, onto which are glued multiple plaques of carved bone. The lid is framed by a border of rose stems with flowers at each corner;

The plaques are decorated with energetic dancers and minstrels, with three male figures in exaggerated poses, a musician playing the pipe and tabor, a fool and a female figure. These figures are all characteristic of the moresca, a popular dance in both courtly and more rustic settings.
The sides of the box are made up of two plaques per side, each bordered above and below by bone framing elements. The front face depcits (on either side of the lock plate) a man offering a rose to a lady. The nexzt face depcits a basse dance, in which two couples move through a landscape ot the accompaniment of a pipe player. The male figures hold torches. The back face seems to parody the love scene on the front, showing a fool and a lady releasing birds.
The final side depicts two fully armoured knights jousting in a landscape. The backgrounds are hatched and show remains of colour. On the bottom is a chequer board of bone and black wooden panels. With metal lock and catch and loops on three sides.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (South , made)

Date

ca. 1440-1470 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Wood overlaid with carved and tinted bone, pigment and gilding

Marks and inscriptions

Casket decorated with plaques with dancers and minstrels, on the side two knights tilting, and on the others processions of figures in a landscape. The backgrounds are hatched and show remains of colour

Dimensions

Height: 6.9 cm, Width: 14.7 cm front, Depth: 18.2 cm of sides

Object history note

Purchased in 1859 (£8); according to Longhurst the casket was acquired in Brussels, and although there is no reason to doubt this, it is not confirmed in the incomplete Museum records.

Historical context note

6747-1860 is an almost exact copy. Examples of these caskets are in most collections. Koechlin argued that these caskets were produced under Italian influence in the court circle of Charles VI.

Descriptive line

Casket, bone, wood, steel, brass, South Netherlands, about 1440-1470

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

Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1859. 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. 31
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 54
Christies Catalogue: April 13, 1983, cat. no 27
for another casket in Nuremberg see:
Stafski, H. Die mittelalterlichen Bildwerke, Band 1 (Kataloge des Germanischen Nationalmuseums Nürnberg), Nuremberg, 1965, cat.no. 233
for a discussion of this group of boxes see:
Randall, Richard H., Jr. The Golden Age of Ivory: Gothic carvings in North American Collections. New York, 1993, pp. 128-30
pp. 20-21
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
p. 254
Westwood, J O. A descriptive catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum. With an Account of the Continental Collections of Classical and Mediaeval Ivories. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1876
I, p. 527, II, cat. no. 1319, II, pl. CCXXX
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
Nuttall, P., ‘Dancing, love and the “beautiful game”: a new interpretation of a group of fifteenth-century “gaming” boxes’, in: Renaissance Studies, XXIV, 2010, pp. 119-141 (reprinted in: Motture, P. and O’Malley (eds.), Re-thinking Renaissance Objects, Design, Function and Meaning, Chichester, 2011), passim, figs 1, 3-4, 10-11
part II, pp. 676-679
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. 676-679, cat. no. 233

Materials

Bone; Wood

Techniques

Carving; Relief; Colouring; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Couples; Figures; Dancers; Tabor; Pipe; Knight; Landscape; Knights; Bird; Minstrel; Flowers; Male figure; Torches; Rose; Musician

Categories

Containers; Caricatures & Cartoons; Games; Woodwork; Sport; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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