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Hair pin

Hair pin

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (north, made)

  • Date:

    late 14th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory gravoir with a crowned lion at its top, made in North Italy in the late fourteenth century.

The gravoir, also described as a broche or discernibulum in medieval documents, was used to part the hair and in some cases was worn as a large hairpin.

In the period between 1300 and 1325 workshops in Paris enjoyed a thriving market for secular ivory carvings. They produced mirror-cases, combs and gravoirs (hair parters), often selling them as sets in leather dressing cases. Subjects from romance literature appeared frequently, as did the allegorical Siege of the Castle of Love.
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. Considering the original ubiquity of such combs and in comparison with ivory mirror cases, a surprisingly small number survive from the fourteenth century.

Physical description

Carved ivory hairpin surmounted by the crowned figure of a crouching lion. A lion with a crown on his head and with its tail curled round its right hind leg crouches on top of a rectangular capital with stylised leaves.

Place of Origin

Italy (north, made)


late 14th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Length: 35.2 cm, Width: 2.1 cm at capital, Depth: 1.1 cm at capital

Object history note

From the Webb Collection.
Bought in 1861 for 9s. 3d.

Descriptive line

Hairpin, carved ivory, surmounted by the crowned figure of a lion, North Italy, late 14th century

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

Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 62
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1861 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. 20
p. 27
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
part II, p. 640
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, p. 640, cat. no. 222





Subjects depicted

Lion (animal)


Hats & headwear; Sculpture; Accessories; Europeana Fashion Project


Sculpture Collection

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