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Cutlery set

Cutlery set

  • Place of origin:

    Nuremberg, Germany (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1580 - ca. 1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved steel and ivory and leather

  • Museum number:

    2165 to M-1855

  • Gallery location:

    Metalware, room 116, case DR7

This ivory knife case contains 12 knives and one fork. Knife cases such as this were designed to be portable. A black substance has been rubbed into the engraving to emphasise the outlines. Ivory was prized during the 16th century for its beauty and rarity.

Ebony, ivory, fish skin, tortoiseshell, amber, bone, horn and shell were all popular for decorating cutlery. Around 1730 ceramic handles were introduced to Europe from China. Although cutlers were required by their guilds to be able to make a complete knife, handles of carved ivory, silver, bronze and glass were usually imported or made by specialist craftsmen.
Knives have been used since prehistoric times, but the history of knives, forks and spoons for eating in Europe probably commenced in the fourteenth century, and their use became accepted by the sixteenth century. Until the late seventeenth century it seems to have been common practice for people to carry their own cutlery, often in a leather case.

Physical description

Ivory cutlery case containing 12 knives and one fork. The case and handles are engraved with full-length figures of emperors and knights and a frieze of hunting subjects. The engraving is filled in with a black substance. The handle of the fork is engraved with a female nude.

Place of Origin

Nuremberg, Germany (made)


ca. 1580 - ca. 1600 (made)


Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Engraved steel and ivory and leather


Length: 22.4 cm of case, Length: 19.5 cm of knives (whole), Length: 6.9 cm of knives (ivory alone), Length: 23.5 cm of fork (whole), Length: 4.5 cm of fork (ivory alone)
[knifecase] Length: 22.1 cm, Width: 7.2 cm maximum
[knife (culinary tool)] Length: 19.6 cm, Width: 1.8 cm maximum
[fork] Length: 23.7 cm, Width: 0.8 cm maximum

Object history note

Blair noted that the designs derive from the engravings of the Nuremberg artist Virgil Solis (Blair 1974, p. 362).

Descriptive line

Cutlery set, ivory, steel and leather, twelve knives and one fork in ivory case, Germany (Nuremberg), ca. 1580-1600

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

Labels and date

Handles and case of ivory, engraved in the style of Virgil Solis of Nuremberg (b.1514; d.1562)
German; 16th century


Ivory; Leather; Steel



Subjects depicted

Female nude


Eating; Metalwork; Tableware & cutlery

Collection code


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