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Storming on the Castle of Love

  • Object:

    Mirror case

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    second quarter fourteenth century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory relief work

  • Museum number:

    1617-1855

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10a, The Françoise and Georges Selz Gallery, case 4

Richard H. Randall Jr. has identified this mirror-case as coming from the same workshop as a similar ivory mirror case in the Louvre (Koechlin 1921, 291). Both have crouching lions as corner terminals rather than the more common bipedal monsters. This example, depiciting the Storming of the Castle of Love is made in the second quarter of the fourteenth century in Paris.

The subject of the Siege of the Castle of Love appears frequently on secular ivories in the fourteenth century; the Museum owns two other mirror cases and a casket bearing similar representations. An allegorical siege of the Castle of Love seems to have been frequently enacted during the Middle Ages; the thirteenth century chronicler, Rolandino of Padua, for instance, records a festival in the town of Treviso in 1214 where a castle was built, and defended by the women and girls of the town while being attacked with fruits, perfumes and flowers thrown by the men. This is the earliest known account of such a siege and Rolandino only records it because it ended in disaster, with violence breaking out between knights from Padua and Venice who were contesting the castle gateway; there may have been any number of precedents which went unrecorded. This type of festivity remained popular for several centuries.

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.

Physical description

The scene is an allegorical representation of an attack on the Castle of Love. Knights attack the Castle of Love 'defended' by women, who ardently receive the knights when they climb over the battlements, above a twin-towered gate house with a portcullis. Indeed, at the left side of the crenellation, a lady is actively taking the arm of a knight, ascending by rope-ladder, to help him up, while at the same time cupping his chin in her free hand, a gesture suggestive of romantic love. To the right of this couple, in the centre of the scene, the 'chin-chucking' gesture is reversed, by a knight embracing another of the ladies. Following the knight on the rope ladder is a knight removing his helmet, and, curiously, holding his sword aloft by the tip of the blade. A helmet-less counterpart on the far right of the scene is holding up what appears to be a flower (a rose?). At the top of the Castle, behind a parapet with trefoil decoration, the God of Love, depicted (seraph-like), with six wings, strikes two suitors with his arrows, one in the heart and the other in the eye. The suitor to the right, struck in the eye, is lifting his hands together, as if in prayer or supplication. The suitor to the left is, with both hands, exposing his wounded heart. These suitors wear similar hair-styles and fillets to the knights below, but are dressed in loose robes rather than the chain mail and surcoats of the other men. To either side of the suitors wounded by the God of Love sits a lady resting her head dreamily in the palm of her left hand. All of the women in the scene are wearing wimple and barbette headresses. Three of the knights' horses are visible, dressed in full caparisons. In the background to wither side of the castle, is a tree. A bird of prey can be seen in the branches of the left hand tree. The circular mirror case is squared off by corner terminals in the form of lions. The top left hand lion is missing.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

second quarter fourteenth century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory relief work

Dimensions

Height: 13.5 cm, Width: 13.3 cm, Depth: 1.6 cm, Weight: 0.22 kg

Object history note

Richard H. Randall Jr. has identified this mirror-case as coming from the same workshop as a similar ivory mirror case in the Louvre (Koechlin 1921, 291). Both have crouching lions as corner terminals rather than the more common bipedal monsters.

In 1808 the mirror back belonged to Richard Haynes Esq. (1776-1816) of Wick Court, Gloucestershire, and was shown at the Society of Antiquaries in London. In 1836 it was reported that it was 'now the property of C.W. Loscombe, esq. of Pickwick House, near Corsham, Wilts' (Gentleman's Magazine, n. s. v, 1836, p. 384); acquired by the Museum in 1855 for £50 12s, but vendor unrecorded.

Historical context note

The subject of the Siege of the Castle of Love appears frequently on secular ivories in the fourteenth century; the Museum owns two other mirror cases and a casket bearing similar representations. An allegorical siege of the Castle of Love seems to have been frequently enacted during the Middle Ages; the thirteenth century chronicler, Rolandino of Padua, for instance, records a festival in the town of Treviso in 1214 where a castle was built, and defended by the women and girls of the town while being attacked with fruits, perfumes and flowers thrown by the men. This is the earliest known account of such a siege and Rolandino only records it because it ended in disaster, with violence breaking out between knights from Padua and Venice who were contesting the castle gateway; there may have been any number of precedents which went unrecorded. This type of festivity remained popular for several centuries. We know that the marriage of Henry VII's son, Prince Arthur, in 1501, was celebrated with a Masque of the Mount of Love besieged by knights, and a similar pageant took place regularly in Fribourg up until the eighteenth century. The sources of the subject are obscure, but it may have been derived from a now-lost romance or an oral tradition. Thomas M. Green, in his overview of the 'Castle of Love' topos, ( Besieging the Castle of Ladies: Occasional Papers/Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies, no.4, Pegasus Press, 1994), writes that the oldest castle of women known to him appears as a foundation myth of the city of Prague in the chronicle of Cosmas of Prague, composed early in the twelfth century:

'Cosmas relates that a Bohemian queen named Lubossa surrounded herself with a group of Amazons who bore arms, dressed like men, hunted game and received the male visitors they chose, when they chose. So independent were they that they constructed a fortress for themselves on a suitable site, a fortress which was named "Devin", meaning "Castle of Maidens." This led the young men of the region to build their own castle nearby, with the result that a state of intermittent warfare prevailed between the two genders. This came to an end only when both sides agreed on a truce of three days and festive communal banquet; the truce effectively concluded the women's period of freedom, since during the evening of the first day, each youth seized a maiden and made off with her. The next morning Devin was burned and a peace treaty signed. After that violence and after the death of Queen Lubossa, writes Cosmas, the wives of our country have always remained subject to the power of their husbands. Under these auspices, recalling the analogous legend of the Sabine women, the city of Prague witnessed its foundation. This narrative, which locates the beginnings of community in mlae mastery, does not describe a formal siege or a drawn battle between the genders, butr its evocation of a fortress defended by women does furnish the kernel of an image which would have a long future. The legend already invests the castle motif with a theme which will cling to it - the struggle for erotic control.'

Representations of it are not confined to ivories, and as well as tapestries the scene appears in religious manuscripts such as the Peterborough Psalter in Brussels, and the Luttrell Psalter in the British Library, both English works, the former from shortly before 1299, the latter from c.1340. The basic elements of the composition vary little from one piece to another, especially among the ivories, but they do vary in details and all retain great liveliness.

Descriptive line

Mirror case, ivory, the Storming on the Castle of Love, France (Paris), second quarter of the fourteenth century

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

Romagnoli, Daniela, Il Medioevo europeo di Jacques Le Goff, Cinisello Balsamo (Milano): Silvana, 2003, pp.162-163
Williamson, Paul (ed), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996, p. 63
Williamson, Paul (ed.), The Medieval Treasury: the art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1986 (reprinted in Hong Kong, 1996), pp. 214-215
Randall Jr., Richard H. Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age (Detroit, Mich. : Detroit Institute of Arts ; Princeton, N.J. : in association with Princeton University Press, c1997.), p. 73
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
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 49
Krueger, Ingeborg. 'Glasspiegel im Mittelalter: Fakten, Funde und Fragen', Bonner Jahrbücher, vol. 190, 1990, pp. 233-313
Krueger, Ingeborg. 'Glasspiegel im Mittelalter II: Neue Funde und neue Fragen'. Bonner Jahrbücher, vol. 195 (1995), pp. 209-48
p. 4
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
p. 309
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
pp. 233-34, pl. XLVIII
Maskell, A., Ivories, London, 1905
I, pp. 407, 408, II, cat. no. 1098, III, pl. CLXXXVI
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
pp. 170, 212, fig. 262
Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires du Moyen Age. Fribourg, 1978
p. 438, fig. 189a
Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. Ivoires Médiévaux, V-XV siècle. Paris, 2003
part II, pp. 594-597
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
p. 485
Koechlin, R., 'Les Ivoires Gothiques', In: Michel, A., ed. Histoire de l'Art depuis les premiers temps chrétiens jusqu'à nos jours, II/1, Paris, 1906
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. 594-597, cat. no. 204

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving; Relief

Subjects depicted

Lions; Ladies; Trees; Arrows; Horseback; Castle; Ladder; Sword; Knights

Categories

Accessories; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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