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Mirror case - the God of Love and a Couple

the God of Love and a Couple

  • Object:

    Mirror case

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)
    Paris (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1300-1320 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory

  • Museum number:

    221-1867

  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case DR8

This is an ivory mirror back, depicting the God of Love and a Couple, made in Paris, in about 1300-1320.

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.

Gothic ivory mirror backs survive in considerable numbers. The ivory cases themselves, usually between 8 and 14 cm in diameter, consisted of two paired ivory discs (described here as ‘mirror backs’), often with four crawling monsters or lions (or leaves) carved around the outer edge. These ornamental features would transform the circle into a square and make the opening of the case easier, although their vulnerability to breakage is now all too evident.
The majority of the ivory mirror cases and their leather boxes must have been purchased as expensive gifts, to be presented by the wealthy élite to their friends, family and lovers, and often as wedding presents. The subject matter of the mirror backs was almost exclusively secular. The God of Love appears regularly on ivory mirror backs, often pictured in the branches of a tree, like in the present piece.

Physical description

The scene depicts the crowned God of Love, seated among the branches of a tree, with his legs crossed, holding two arrows which he points at two lovers standing below, to his right, a lady holding a chaplet, and to his left a gentleman holding a hawk. These are traditional symbols of amour courtois. The corner terminals of the ivory are formed by four crawling monsters with long ears and tails.

Place of Origin

France (made)
Paris (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1300-1320 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory

Dimensions

Height: 9.6 cm, Width: 9.2 cm

Object history note

In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 137); purchased from Webb in 1867, for £35.

Descriptive line

Mirror case, ivory, the God of Love and a Couple, France (Paris), ca. 1300-1320

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. 47
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. 8
p. 84
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
p. 312
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, pp. 400, 402, II, cat. no. 1068, III, pl. CLXXXIII
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 578-579
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
p. 312
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
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. 578-579, cat. no. 198

Materials

Ivory

Subjects depicted

Hawk; Lady; Tree; Gentleman; Romantic love

Categories

Sculpture; Accessories

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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