Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.



  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    mid fourteenth century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an ivory casket made in Paris in the midsdle of the fourteenth century. The casket depicts domestic and couting scenes. Single figures of knights and ladies in conversation, or playing on musical instruments, among them chess players and the lover crowned. The mounts (of later date) are gilded copper set with glass pastes.

This example seems not to depict any particular story or romance. Instead the couples depicted make play with the familiar tropes of medieval courtship: hawks, lap dogs, chaplets and games of chess.

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

Carved ivory casket composed of six panels depicting domestic scenes. The lid depicts two pairs of male and female figures under trefoil arches. Each arch is topped by a gable with four crockets and a finial; the gable and the spaces to either side of it are embellished with trefoil ornament. The architecture is roughly and unevenly carved. On the left a man with a hawk on his left arm faces his female companion, who raises her right hand towards him. On the right is another man with a hawk, whose female companion holds a flower in her right hand. The scenes around the side of the casket all take place beneath trefoil arches without gables. The front face has at either end a seated musician, playing a citole and psaltery; in the centre, a male and female figure support the lock plate. The remainder of the scenes around the sides of the casket depict pairs of male and female figures. Reading from left to right, the right short end depicts as couple playing chess and a woman crowing her kneeling suitor with a chaplet. The back face shows on the left a seated couple, the woman holding a lap dog, and on the right another seated couple, the woman with a flower. The left short end depicts another seated couple with the woman holding up a small dog, and a seated couple (the same pair?) with the woman grasping her partner's wrist with her left hand while holding her dog with her right. The mounts (of later date) are gilded copper set with glass pastes.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


mid fourteenth century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 6.4 cm, Width: 13.4 cm, Depth: 8.8 cm

Object history note

In the collection of Prince Petr Soltykoff, Paris, until 1861; bought by John Webb, London, at the Soltykoff sale (Soltykoff 1861, lot 338); purchased from Webb in 1867 for £48.

Descriptive line

Casket, ivory, depicting domestic and courting scenes, France (Paris), middle of the fourteenth century with later mounts

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

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
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 52
p. 106
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, pp. 479, 483, II, cat. no. 1270, III, pl. CCXVII
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 666-669
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. 666-669, cat. no. 230





Subjects depicted

Hawk; Dog; Couple; Flower; Male figure; Psaltery; Arches; Musician; Female figure; Romantic love; Chess; Citole


Containers; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.