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Casket - Marriage Casket

Marriage Casket

  • Object:

    Casket

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (North, Venice or Florence, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1390-1410 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Workshop of the Embriachi (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bone, horn and intarsia on a wooden carcase

  • Museum number:

    4304:1-1857

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This ocatagonal casket, formed of plaques of carved bone and 'alla certosina' marquetry of coloured woods, is made by the Workshop of the Embriachi, in about 1390-1410 in North Italy, Florence or Venice.
The sides are decorated with eight panels illustrating the story of Jason; the lid with a similar number representing the Virtues.

The Embriachi workshop was a famous ivory-carving family who originated in Florence but had a workshop in Venice by the 1430s. They were able to employ local workers specialising in 'certosina' (inlay of stained woods, bone and horn), and the workshop produced items carved in bone (usually horse or ox) with wood and bone marquetry.
Apart from altarpieces the workshop made caskets as bridal gifts to hold jewels or documents, and these were often decorated with scenes from mythology.

The story of Jason was first written in the 200s BC by the Alexandrian poet Apollonius of Rhodes. According to the Argonautica written by Apollonius, Jason led the Argonauts on their voyage to capture the Golden Fleece from Aeetes, King of Colchis on the Black Sea. The King's daughter Medea fell in love with Jason, and by her skill in magic helped him overcome various mortal dangers and win the fleece, which hung from the branch of a tree guarded by a dragon. Having won the fleece Jason and Medea fled from the wrath of Aeetes back to Greece. Jason later abandoned Medea and married a Greek woman causing Medea to seek revenge.

Physical description

Octagonal, sides decorated with eight panels illustrating the story of Jason; the lid with a similar number representing the Virtues. Wood enriched with 'alla certosina' marquetry and covered with carved bone plaques. The scenes are in several cases made up of plaques from different episodes (as a result of incorrect restauration), so do not always now make sense.
1. Jason kneels before King Peleus, crossing his hands before his chest
2. Jason stands clad in full armour in a boat (the Argo) rowed by an attendant
3. Jason with a maid approaches Medea, who holds a figure of Jupiter in her hands
4. Jason with two other figures stands before Kinf Aeëtes, with two bulls rearing behind
5. Jason fights the dragon and extracts its teeth
6. Jason again fights the dragon, whose teeth he then sows
7. Jason once again clad in secular garb, stands with a man and a woman on a shore
8. Jason kneels, gesturing to Medea, who is being rowed away in a boat

Place of Origin

Italy (North, Venice or Florence, made)

Date

ca. 1390-1410 (made)

Artist/maker

Workshop of the Embriachi (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Bone, horn and intarsia on a wooden carcase

Dimensions

Height: 37.6 cm, Width: 33.9 cm, Height: 10.3 cm of narrative plaques, Height: 10 cm of Virtues plaques

Object history note

According to Longhurst the casket was formerly in the possession of John Webb, London; this is not otherwise corroborated in the Museum registers, which simply note that the casket was purchased in 1857 (£40), but is likely to be correct.

Descriptive line

Marriage Casket, octagonal, bone and wood enriched with 'alla certosina' marquetry, with the story of Jason and Virtues, by the Workshop of the Embriachi, North Italy (Venice or Florence), about 1390-1410 with later restaurations

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

Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1857. 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. 22
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 65
p. 14
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
part II, pp. 808-813
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. 808-813, cat. no. 266

Production Note

The knob on the lid, is of a later date

Materials

Wood; Bone; Horn

Techniques

Marquetry; Carving

Subjects depicted

Bulls; Dragon; Figures; Boat

Categories

Containers; Marquetry; Myths & Legends

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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