Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Toothpick

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1580 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold cast, engraved, and enamelled, with two table-cut rubies and one table-cut diamond

  • Museum number:

    294-1854

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case 9

Elaborately decorated toothpicks were articles of fashion as well as personal hygiene in the sixteenth century, as they had been in the Ancient World.

The handle is formed of a naked female figure, adorned with flowing bands and garters, her head terminates in a suspension loop, indicating that the toothpick would have been worn on a chain around the neck. The figure on the handle represents Lucretia, wife of Collatinus. Her rape by Sextus Tarquinius led to the overthrow of the last of the Roman kings and the election of Collatinus and Lucius Junius Brutus as the first two consuls in 509 BC.

Physical description

A gold toothpick. The handle is formed of a naked female figure of Lucretia who is adorned with flowing bands enamelled in blue and red, and with garters of red enamel just below each knee. Her head terminates in a suspension loop. She sits upon a scroll enamelled in green on the front, and in blue and black on the reverse. The sickle-shaped blade of the toothpick is engraved for the application of enamel, which is mostly lost, but is black where is remains. Ornament between the handle and the blade is enamelled in blue, red, white and green. The toothpick is set with two rubies and one diamond, all table-cut.

Place of Origin

Germany (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1580 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gold cast, engraved, and enamelled, with two table-cut rubies and one table-cut diamond

Dimensions

Height: 56 mm, Width: 19 mm, Depth: 4 mm

Object history note

Historical significance: In an engraving published in Nuremberg in1562, Erasmus Hornick shows a design of a toothpick in which the handle is formed from the head and naked torso of a woman curving, as in the example in the V&A under discussion, in the opposite direction to the blade of the pick (Hackenbroch, 1979, fig. 436). Tait suggests that Hornick might have borrowed 'the idea of this design from an Italian source, most probably from the work of an artist in the Florentine circle of Francesco Salviati (1510-63)' (Tait, 1986, page 168), but no precise source is identified.

Historical context note

Elaborately decorated toothpicks were articles of fashion as well as personal hygiene in the sixteenth century, as they had been in the Ancient World. In the Middle Ages when the pick sometimes took the form a a mounted bird claw, the claw of the bittern was particularly favoured. This toothpick has a suspension loop and would have been worn hanging from a chain around the neck, a custom which Lightbown describes as continuing into the late sixteenth century. He illustrates a portrait of an unknown man by Alessandro Oliviero, late fifteenth century (Lightbown, 1992, page 236, fig. 125), who wears a gem-set toothpick linked by a pearl to a necklace formed of several strands of cord.

Descriptive line

Enamelled and gem-set gold toothpick, the handle formed of the torso and head of a woman, probably South Germany, ca. 1580

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

Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), p 69, Case 13, Board B, no. 2.
Hackenbroch, Yvonne, Renaissance Jewellery (London, 1979).
Lightbown, Ronald W., Mediaeval European Jewellery (London, 1992).
Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum, I. The Jewels (London, 1986)

Labels and date

'TOOTHPICK
Enamelled gold, set with a diamond and rubies; the figure on the handle represents Lucretia, wife of Collatinus. Her rape by Sextus Tarquinius led to the overthrow of the last of the Roman kings and the election of Collatinus and Lucius Junius Brutus as the first two consuls in 509 BC.
SOUTH GERMAN: late 16th century.
294-1854'

This is the full text from Bury, 1982, Case 13, Board B, no. 2. [1982]

Production Note

Attributed to South Germany (Bury, 1982, Case 13, Board A, no. 2)

Materials

Gold; Diamond; Ruby; Enamel

Techniques

Casting; Engraving (incising); Enamelling; Stone setting

Categories

Health; Jewellery

Collection

Metalwork 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.