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Legend of St Margaret

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1350-1375 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory casket made in Paris, about 1350-75. This casket is carved in low relief with scenes from the legend of St Margaret, as described in the Golden Legend;
The basic cycle of images illustrating Margaret's life, frequently digressing from the texts, was depicted in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in various media, and there are obvious similarities between the scenes on the ivories and a number of manuscripts, wall paintings and stained glass windows. The central image of her breaking free from the dragon's stomach while holding the sign of the cross, remained the most common depiction of the saint, and can be found on many other ivories.
The selection of Saint Margaret's life for depiction on a casket of this type fits well with the view that they may have served as wedding gifts. As the patron saint of childbirth, Margaret’s' story would have been an apposite choice.

Physical description

Ivory casket carved in low relief with scenes from the legend of St Margaret, comprising six ivory panels, five with images and the sixth forming the base.
The front and back panels each have a chamfer at either end, allowing for the insertion of the short side panels.

On the front before the Roman Governor, Olybrius, to the right, taken to prison, on the back beaten with rods and again imprisoned. On one end she is depicted being devoured by the dragon and emerges whole, then beheaded. On the other end are two crowned seated figures, apparently representing the judge. Above each scene is a trefoil arch. The gilt metal mounts are modern. Margaret is represented spinning wool with distaff and spindle. Olybrius (or his messenger) approaches with left hand raised, and his horse follows behind, filling the space below the lock plate. The right portion of the panel is actually part of a larger scene, which wraps around the casket's si8de and includes the crowned figure represented there: a figure with a club forces Margaret forwards to face the seated Olybrius, who has a mysterious large covered cup before him. The next scene follows the same pattern of wrapping around the sides of the casket. It includes Olybrius with his right hand raised to point, the covered cup, and Margaret between the two tormentors who beat her with flails. In the last two compartments on the back of the casket, Margaret is taken back to the turreted prison. The story is completed on the final short end of the casket. Margaret holding a cross, is shown bursting out of the back of a dragon that has devoured her in her prison cell. The lid of the casket represents four saints beneath trefoil arches. The two outer compartments are lightly wider than the inner pair. On the lid are figures of St. John the Baptist holding the Lamb of God, St. Agnes with her lamb at her feet, a young male saint (formerly described as St. Barnabas) with martyr's palm and book, and the crowned St. Catherine of Alexandria, holding a small wheel and martyr's palm.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


ca. 1350-1375 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 6.8 cm including feet, Height: 6.1 cm not including feet, Width: 10 cm, Depth: 7.5 cm including fittings, Depth: 6.4 cm ivory alone

Object history note

In the collection of Louis-Fidel Debruge-Duménil (1788-1838) and heirs, Paris, until 1850; Debruge-Duménil sale, Paris, 23 January -12 March 1850, lot 1492; Soltykoff collection, Paris; bought by John Webb, London at the Soltykoff sale, PAris 1861 (Soltykoff 1861, lot 340); purchased from Webb in 1867, for £48.

Descriptive line

Casket, carved ivory, depicting scenes from the legend of St Margaret, France (Paris), ca. 1350-75

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

Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 20
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1867. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 6
pp. 105-6
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, p. 180, II, cat. no. 347
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part 1, pp. 490-493
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part 1, pp. 490-493, cat. no. 169



Subjects depicted

Book; Cross; Lamb; Sheep; Wheel; Dragon


Christianity; Sculpture; Containers


Sculpture Collection

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