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  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (South, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1430-1460 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Elephant ivory, silver, wood, with traces of colour and gilding, steel lock and handle, on wooden carcase

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case 8

This is an ivory casket made in about 1430-1460 in the South Netherlands. The casket depicts twenty scenes from the Life of the Virgin.
Ivory was used all over Europe for religious works of art. It was often combined with precious metals and usually took the form of relief panels, for book covers, portable altars and caskets. An almost unbroken tradition of ivory carving extends from the Roman and Byzantine empires until the end of the 14th century. From about 1250, Paris became the centre of production for figures and reliefs intended for private devotion. Other workshops emerged in Italy and Germany. Venice was one of the centres of ivory carving in Italy. Much of the work was based on French models. Some of the craftsmen may have been trained in Paris as their work often combines French and local styles.

Physical description

Casket covered with panels of bone, carved with twenty events from the life of the Virgin; the compartments separated by bands of conventionalised foliage sprays. Beginning on the lid, reading from left to right in two rows, the scenes are:
The Offering of Joachim and Anna in the Temple; An Angel appears to Joachim; Joachim with his flocks; The Angel appears to St. Anne; Joachim and Anna meet at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem; the Birth of the Virgin; the Virgin entering the Temple; Inside the Temple. The lock and key are of cut steel.
On the front and sides the scenes are: The Virgin at Prayer; the Virgin weaving; the Virgin fed by an angel; the Marriage of the Virgin and St Joseph; the Virgin goes home with other virgins; the Annunciation; the Nativity of Christ; the Adoration of the Magi.
On the back are the scenes: the Angel appearing to the Shepherds; Linen fold decoration; the Flight to Egypt.
The backgrounds are hatched. The underside is decorated with ivory, stained wood and intarsia in an 8 x 8 checkerboard pattern. The lid of the casket is attached with two modern steel hinges held in place with machined screws, and the interior is entirely lined with modern green velvet.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (South, made)


ca. 1430-1460 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Elephant ivory, silver, wood, with traces of colour and gilding, steel lock and handle, on wooden carcase


Height: 10.4 cm not including handle, Length: 20.5 cm, Depth: 11.8 cm

Object history note

Purchased through Duralcher Brothers at the sale of the collection of George H. Morland, London (Sale, Christie's, 8 May, 1866, No. 201, for £14 3s 6d). It was stated in the sale catalogue that the casket had previously been in the Soltykoff collection in Paris, but it does not appear ot have been included in the Soltykoff sale of 1861).

Descriptive line

Casket, ivory, silver, wood, scenes from the Life of the Virgin, South Netherlandish, ca. 1430-1460

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

Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1866. 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. 16
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Pub. under the authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, pp. 41-42
cf. Randall, Richard H, Jr. The Golden Age of Ivory: Gothic Carvings in North American Collections. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1993, cat. no. 164
Randall, Richard H., Jr. Masterpieces of Ivory from the Walters Art Gallery. London, 1985, cat. no. 359
Egnert, D. D. North Italian Gothic Ivories: Art Studies. VII, 1929, pp. 191 seq.
Merti, Augusto. Il Tesco del Duomo di Monza. Monza: Comune di Monza, 1965, fig. 61
Barnet, Peter, ed. Images in Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Ages. Detroit, Mich: Detroit Institute of Arts, Princeton, N. J. in association with Princeton Univeristy Press, 1997, p. 269
I, p. 342 (note 3), II, cat. no. 952
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part I, pp. 508-513
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
pp. 71-73
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
pl. XXIX
Maskell, A., Ivories, London, 1905
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part I, pp. 508-513, cat. no. 175


Ivory; Steel


Carving; Gilding


Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Containers


Sculpture Collection

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